Council plans to host public safety forum
In the wake of national protests against police brutality, members of the Beacon Police Department, including Chief Kevin Junjulas, spoke with the City Council on Monday (June 8) for nearly 90 minutes on the department’s policies, including the use of force.
During the meeting, which was held by videoconference, the chief, Lt. Tom Figlia and Capt. Gary Fredericks addressed 8 Can’t Wait, policies that the activist organization Campaign Zero says would reduce police violence. The council also said it would host a community forum on public safety on a date that will be announced at its next meeting, on Monday (June 15).
Council Member Terry Nelson, who during the June 1 council meeting shared the story of having a gun pointed in his face by a New York City police officer as a teen, said on Monday that there are “a lot of pockets of this community whose voices have not been heard for way too long.” The city and police, he said, should “not make it difficult for them.”
The police officers and council members spent the most time discussing the use of chokeholds. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday enacted a law that bans them.)
“It’s not something we train officers to do; it’s not something we encourage officers to do,” said Figlia, the department’s training coordinator. “It’s the sort of thing where if it’s the only method that you have available and it’s a lethal force situation — that’s the only time it would be allowed.”
In addition, an officer must file a report after any use of force beyond “compliant handcuffing,” Figlia said. The reports are reviewed by the officers’ supervisors, as well as Figlia and Junjulas. “We look at the body camera [footage]; we try to interview any witnesses we can find. We have a fairly extensive review process,” Figlia said.
In 2019, the department made 526 arrests, and there were 24 instances in which force was required, Figlia said, noting that “if a person pulls their hands forward and the officer pulls their hands back” to apply handcuffs, that scenario would count as a “reportable use of force.” None of the 24 reported uses of force involved chokeholds or any other form of deadly force, he said.
Responding to a question from Council Member Air Rhodes, Figlia said the department does not track demographic information related to its arrests.
The council and police also had a lengthy conversation about complaints against the department.
Citizens can file complaints in person, through a civilian complaint form on the city’s website, through the city’s Human Relations Commission or by sending an email to the mayor or city administrator. Complaints are forwarded to Fredericks, who conducts interviews with the officer(s) and complainants.
In 2019, Junjulas said, the department responded to nearly 13,000 calls for service, and there were five complaints filed. So far in 2020, the police have responded to nearly 4,000 calls and received three complaints. No complaints were related to the use of force, Fredericks said.
While the officers’ responses to 8 Can’t Wait and the council’s questions were “sober and practical,” Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair said they did not fully address the feedback he has heard from residents. He added on Tuesday that most, if not all, “are asking for substantive change” in local policing.
The Beacon Police Department spent more than a decade, from 2004 to 2016, under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice after a number of lawsuits were filed against the city. The federal agency issued nearly a dozen pages of recommendations regarding the use of force, weapons, canines and the procedures for processing complaints.
On Monday, Beacon Mayor Lee Kyriacou said the oversight led to the “professionalization of the department” and a shift from a “‘who-you-know’ arrangement to a ‘treat everyone the same’ ” approach.