Beacon Police Face Scrutiny

Concerned residents ‘pack’ virtual forum 

More than 150 people joined an online forum on public safety in Beacon last weekend, with many of them calling for budget cuts and other dramatic changes at the Police Department.

Prompted by a June 8 meeting held by videoconference between the City Council and members of the department — two of whom, including the chief, announced their retirements days later — the forum was one of several developments during a week when protests over police brutality and race continued nationwide.

Of the more than 30 people who spoke during the June 20 forum, many asked the council to cut as much as 50 percent from the Police Department budget, which exceeds $5 million annually and accounts for about 25 percent of the spending from the city’s general fund.

Dozens of callers also asked the city to outfit officers with fewer weapons while increasing de-escalation and anti-bias training. 

Some shared personal experiences with officers that upset them. Zoe Fonseca, a Beacon resident who teaches elementary school in Newburgh, tearfully recalled standing by her snowbound car two years ago when a Beacon police officer pulled over and said he was about to have her car towed. 

Fonseca said she told the officer she had not seen any signs indicating that she couldn’t park on the street during the snowstorm. The officer, she said, retorted: “Do you need signs to tell you not to murder people?” 

Later, at school, she said she “had to collect myself before I could teach my students because of an interaction I’d had with someone who should be serving the community.” 

Another caller, Sarah Capua, said that three years earlier she had answered her door to find six officers with guns drawn. There had been a report of a shot fired, but “clearly, they were at the wrong address,” she said. 

Capua said she asked the officers to holster their weapons before she allowed them into her home but said there were soon five more officers on her lawn with automatic rifles.

She described what she said was a haphazard search of her home, during which two officers drew their weapons again, with “excitement on their faces.”

The episode ended without incident but Capua said Saturday that she was troubled by the “many, many ways that could have gone incredibly badly.”

Other callers at the forum voiced their support for the police. 

Patty Turcy-Rose said that the criticism seemed like an organized attack, with callers parroting talking points such as budget cuts and fewer weapons.

“How are the police supposed to protect the community against the so-called bad guys who do have guns?” she asked. “Right now all I’m hearing is extremism.”

Bryanne Figlia, the wife of Lt. Tom Figlia, the Beacon department’s training coordinator, called in to voice her support for Beacon 4 Black Lives and other protestors. 

“I understand the deep sense of mistrust,” she said. “The Beacon Police Department, because of what I happen to know of it, has incredible potential to change. Folks are correct when they say that we need a different paradigm. I don’t want the residents of Beacon to believe they are fighting a force that is against them.”

Another resident, Renee Stanko, offered her perspective on calls to “defund the police.” 

“When we say ‘defund the police,’ we want to see a different type of police on the ground,” she said. “I want to see someone who knows their community. I want to see someone who doesn’t always have a gun on their hip. It changes a lot when the police can look you in the eye and say, ‘Hi, how’s your day?’ ”

Charles Demetropolis observed that “we tend to focus always on the negative but we never focus on the positive things police are doing in our community. I don’t think we should be demonizing the police.” 

But Robert Kimmel, the next caller, said he felt outreach programs such as Coffee with a Cop have done little to quell feelings of marginalization in Beacon. 

“The police have done a good job of demonizing themselves,” he said. “There are some of us who are rejected and despised, and Coffee with a Cop does not help.”

Next steps

On Wednesday (June 24), City Council Member Terry Nelson, who represents Ward 1, said in an interview that the council hadn’t decided what its next steps would be. 

“We want to get a better knowledge of what the department’s procedures are,” he said. “If there are consistent stories [of misconduct], we’ll talk to the department about it.”

However, he added, “this is us doing our due diligence. It is not a coordinated attack against the police.”

Nelson said he hoped his colleagues would consider creating an ad hoc “truth and reconciliation” committee to discuss racial issues. The format was notably used as a platform for victims of human rights violations after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Nelson said he hoped a local forum could allow residents to more openly “acknowledge your past instead of burying it.

“People need to sit down and talk to each other and acknowledge that we have a problem,” he said. “We’re not talking about it.”

Police statement 

The day before the June 20 forum, the Beacon Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the labor union that represents officers, posted a letter addressed to the City Council on its Facebook page. It asked council members to “do your research” and “seek the truth” regarding allegations levied against officers.

The letter referenced a 2006 incident in which a Beacon police officer and another individual were shot. It said the story was being recalled incorrectly as an unprovoked police shooting. 

“Many of the incidents as told by speakers of the movement are not accurate,” the PBA wrote. “Misinformation could cause irreversible damage to this city.”

Memorial bench

A bench placed outside of the entrance to City Hall nearly two years ago to memorialize a police officer has become a focus of discussion, as well.

It honors Dustin James, a Village of Walden police officer who was killed at age 31 in a motorcycle accident in 2017. James was the stepson of then-Mayor Randy Casale, and the bench was commissioned by the officer’s friends and former colleagues. 

Its design includes the “thin blue line” that has been used to show support for law enforcement but also has been placed on the U.S. flag as part of a Blue Lives Matter campaign seen as critical of Black Lives Matter.

A bench placed outside Beacon City Hall memorializes a Walden police officer who was a stepson of the former Beacon mayor. (Photo by J. Simms)

Mayor Lee Kyriacou said Thursday that city officials have received feedback for and against the bench. “I don’t think anyone objected to it at the time,” Kyriacou said. “The only issue was the blue stripe on it,” which he said “some people view negatively.”

Kyriacou said that numerous memorials have been placed in and around City Hall over the years, each time as an “administrative decision” that did not involve the City Council.

Casale said this week that there was already another bench at City Hall and when he approved the placement of the memorial for James he believed it would provide additional seating.

Casale, who made a number of Facebook posts this week excoriating city officials, said he’s heard that the bench could be moved to the Police Department entrance.

“I would be OK with moving it there as a reminder that all cops should be good cops,” he said. “But if we’re moving the bench just to hide it until somebody complains about it there, that’s not happening.”

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10 thoughts on “Beacon Police Face Scrutiny

  1. This article seems to be balanced. I found one comment especially disturbing, as it appeared to be devoid of empathy, but everyone has the right to speak their minds. As a resident of this area, the moral fabric of the people I live among is very important to me. I want to be around people who are kind to everyone, not just selectively! I very much appreciate Jeff Simms’ objective reporting.

  2. Thirty people speaking out to cut police funding in no way represent the opinion of the 15,000 people who live in Beacon. I’ve lived in the city for more than 40 years and have never had anything but positive dealings with any of the police officers (yep, even when I got a ticket years ago). Hopefully the City Council doesn’t act erratically due to a few people who may have some personal issues when the majority is in support of our police.

    • Wanting more funds to go to our children and to strengthening the community does not necessarily mean people don’t “support the police.” It means we want to prioritize other things. We can still have a police force to respond to violent crimes with a fraction of what is spent now. Spending 25 percent of our city’s budget on policing is wasted money and an opportunity. I favor putting this to a citywide vote. What if we could vote on the police budget the same way we vote on the school’s budget?

  3. Upon consulting with and the agreement of the family involved, I want to announce that a bench placed in memory of Officer Dustin James outside City Hall will be moved to the entrance to the Beacon police station.

    I want to thank the family for their gracious accommodation. Dustin James was a fine human being and a fine police officer. I attended his memorial service.

    A portion of the bench reflects his career, which some members of the community may feel is inappropriate in front of the city courthouse and municipal entrance. It is more fitting and appropriate for this bench to be placed in front of the police station. As this is an administrative matter, this decision is made by the mayor.

    As with most decisions in a democratic, pluralistic society, where people have diverse opinions, this may not make anyone fully satisfied, let alone everyone. I would encourage tolerance and respect for one another on this and all issues.

    Kyriacou is the mayor of Beacon.

  4. Be kind to cops and they will return the favor, regardless of pigmentation. Returning safely to their families is the prime objective. [via Facebook]

  5. It’s funny how everyone is protective of their tax dollars when it comes to the police. These officers put their lives on the line; we should pay them less? When crime increases and it impacts each person, critics will say the police aren’t doing their jobs. Moving funds away from the police department will come at a cost to the community unless the community can maintain order and civility on its own. [via Facebook]

  6. Pizza delivery is a more dangerous job than policing. If we’re paying on a danger scale, let’s pay groundskeepers, farmers, garbage collectors, truckers and fishermen more than police, who all do a heck of a lot more for this country anyway. The myth of policing as a dangerous profession gives cops the idea that their job is a battlefield, and a lot of innocent people have died for their war fantasies. [via Facebook]

  7. It’s ironic how we think of police as tough people and yet they completely melt down at any sort of criticism. [via Facebook]

  8. What is happening in this country is disgusting. I can’t believe that anybody would ever want to consider defunding the police department. We are a nation of law and order. Respect the law and there will be order. [via Facebook]

  9. The community is loudly saying that order and civility are not being maintained by the police departments of this country. The function of defunding departments is to reallocate tax dollars to better maintain order and civility. [via Facebook]

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