City will hold public hearing on March 15
Beacon officials this week released the city’s draft Police Reform and Modernization Collaborative Report, a 51-page document that, combined with a series of policy changes adopted last year, is expected to satisfy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to update police strategies and practices.
His order, issued last summer, requires municipalities to study their law enforcement policies and issue reports by April 1 on reforms to, among other goals, “eliminate racial inequities in policing” following the videotaped killing in May 2020 of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The City Council will discuss the report, which is posted at cityofbeacon.org, at its workshop on Monday (March 8) and hold a public hearing on March 15. (All city meetings are being conducted on Zoom.) Beacon residents also may submit comments via email through March 16.
The council will hold a workshop followed by a special meeting on March 29 to adopt the reform plan, which was drafted by a 19-member Police Reform Planning Committee that Mayor Lee Kyriacou appointed in January. The committee, which includes eight community representatives, distilled its discussions into 10 recommendations.
In its draft, Beacon’s police reform committee made recommendations in 10 areas.
Community safety: Conduct a safety-needs assessment; explore hiring non-sworn neighborhood safety officers to bring concerns to police; continue training officers to
“de-escalate” tense situations.
Addressing the needs of individuals: Improve response to mental health and crisis intervention situations by hiring a social worker to assist the department; continue partnerships with addiction-recovery programs.
Criminal justice alternatives: Explore initiatives that can keep people out of the criminal justice system when other options, such as mental health services, could better address root problems and reduce recidivism; continue initiatives that support crime victims or establish restorative-justice programs.
Communications: Hold regular community meetings; create a citizen advisory committee.
Hear officers’ experiences: Create surveys to ensure officers’ perspectives are being heard; increase efforts to retain officers.
Data collection and reporting: Analyze data, such as use-of-force reporting, and make it available to the public.
Diversity: Recruit a more diverse police force by educating potential candidates about civil service exams, including the timing of upcoming tests; explore the idea of re-instituting civil service tutorials with Dutchess County.
Structure and patrols: Evaluate community policing initiatives with regard to the department’s staffing limitations; rethink procedures for evaluating officers, which the committee said have historically been based on numbers such as traffic stops and arrests made.
Accountability: Improve city and community oversight of allegations of misconduct, including enhancement of the system for residents to submit complaints.
Youth security: Create internship and age-specific programs, as well as a police and teens athletic league; reinstitute, when COVID-19 guidelines allow, the youth police academy; consider creating a community center.
The report also describes Beacon’s recent history of police reform — more than a decade of investigation and oversight by the federal Justice Department in response to citizen complaints — as well as the department’s positive interactions last summer with Beacon 4 Black Lives and the other activists who organized weekly rallies to protest Floyd’s killing and racial inequities.
As a result of the federal oversight, which ended in 2016, “the Beacon Police Department re-examined and reformed many of its policies and procedures, which allowed this small department to adopt early on some of the progressive reforms now being discussed in much larger departments, including significant revisions to the use-of-force policy,” the report notes.
While some of the study’s recommendations cover the same ground as other municipalities’ — adding social workers and civilian review boards — City Administrator Chris White said Wednesday that Beacon continued proactive reforms after the Justice Department’s oversight ended, including the use of body cameras, which the department deployed in 2018. (Beacon patrol cars are equipped with cameras, as well.)
“There’s this continuum of reform that the department has been on,” White said. “Some cities may have started [working on the state-required reports] at the beginning of the continuum, but Beacon was already moving on it.”
Two months after Cuomo’s executive order, the City Council adopted a resolution calling for nearly a dozen policy changes at the Police Department.
Its resolution instructed the police chief, Sands Frost, who was appointed on Dec. 21, to begin his tenure “with a thorough review of police training, culminating in a data-driven set of recommendations” for improvements. It also directed him to examine Beacon’s policy on psychological support for officers and called for a multi-year schedule for implicit bias training for all city staff, including police.
It also said the chief and city administrator should investigate “alternative responder” options and the department’s disciplinary policy, and evaluate its arsenal while the City Council reviews police policies for transparency.
Where most municipalities, including Beacon, can improve is in having “regular and formal” opportunities for communication with the community, White said. He said those conversations should happen “in the places where the community already meets,” rather than “saying ‘we’ve got coffee and doughnuts at City Hall’ and asking people to come to us.”
White said he believes there’s support for better community relations in the department. Going a step farther and creating a citizen advisory committee is “probably the greatest change” recommended by the committee “because we don’t have that now.”
Frost said after his hire that outreach will be the key to connecting with disillusioned community members following the high-profile killings of Floyd and others by police in recent years.