City is first in area to comply with law
The Beacon Police Department has released detailed records of every arrest made by its officers since 2017 that required the use of force beyond “compliant handcuffing,” as well as about a dozen complaints lodged against officers dating to 2004.
The data dump of 1,536 pages of records, which the city posted online (see bit.ly/beacon-records), comes nearly a year after the state, in the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, repealed a law that kept them secret.
The Current submitted Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the Beacon and Cold Spring police and Dutchess and Putnam County sheriffs soon after the repeal was enacted on June 12. The Cold Spring and Putnam County requests are pending; Dutchess said it interpreted the law to mean that only records from the date the repeal took effect had to be released, a position also taken by other law enforcement agencies in the state.
(The law applies to fire departments and jails, as well. The Dutchess County jail said it has no records of any disciplinary proceedings from 2010 to present; records from the Fishkill and Downstate state prisons are pending; and the Beacon Fire Department released a document from 2005 citing the discipline of an officer for filing incomplete incident reports.)
Beacon officials said they planned to release the information in December but were delayed due to the volume of data that needed to be reviewed and redacted for privacy, such as blacking out the names of those arrested or who filed complaints.
Some law enforcement agencies and the unions that represent officers have challenged the repeal in court or resisted releasing records. The Town of Fishkill and the Village of Wappingers Falls passed laws that allow officers to object to the release of their disciplinary records.
Mike Confield, the vice president of the Beacon police officers’ union, said Wednesday (May 19) that he was not aware that the city had released the records. He noted, however, that Beacon officers use force in only about 5 percent of arrests.
“It’s time to stop looking for problems with good police officers here and across the country,” Confield said. “It’s time to work together, respect each other and continue the safety, stability and success of this city.”
The Beacon records include use-of-force reports that, according to department policy, must be filed by officers while still on duty after each incident that involves anything beyond compliant handcuffing. As examples, Lt. Tom Figlia, the department’s training coordinator, cited “pulling a person’s arms behind their back as they try to keep the officer from doing so, or carrying a person to a police car who refuses to walk.”
The files include a description of each use-of-force incident and a supervisor’s report, which is filed after a review of body camera and in-car video footage, if available, and interviewing officers, suspects and, in some cases, witnesses.
The reports also indicate what type of force was used, such as a restraint hold, pushing a suspect or the use of a Taser, along with details from the officer providing context. Any medical treatment is noted, along with accounts of assisting officers and photographs.
One record, for example, describes a 2017 traffic stop during which a driver wrestled with officers over a pocketbook found to contain a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The officers described pushing the woman onto her car to gain control of her hands and taking her to the ground when she attempted to pull away before being handcuffed.
Another, from February 2020, recounts an incident that occurred after officers responded to a call for disorderly conduct. Finding three people acting erratically who said they had taken acid, the police tried to redirect one who was walking toward Wolcott Avenue. The woman, after attempting to get past the police several times, punched an officer in the face and shoved another.
As she resisted arrest, an officer placed his knee on top of the woman’s knee, preventing her from rolling. The officer then secured the woman’s ankle, placed it across her thigh and applied enough pressure to get her to stop rolling and resisting.
Figlia said that during the years he’s been in charge of training, there has been no use of force ruled to be outside the department’s guidelines and that the department has not been sued for any alleged excessive force. “I contend that this is not by accident,” he said, “but because we train yearly on the use-of-force policy, laws and case law, physical applications of the use of force, and also have close supervision and stringent ways of monitoring our officers.”
The city’s data also includes complaints that have been lodged against Beacon officers over the past 15 years. Most involved callers who felt that officers had been rude or police blotter entries that were incorrectly filed, or not filed.
In 2010, an officer was admonished for failing to file blotter entries promptly. He was also criticized for his grammar, abbreviations, sentence structure and not using capital letters.
Another officer in 2004 was reprimanded after parking in the mayor’s parking space at City Hall and then asking Joseph Braun, the city administrator (who had recently received a ticket for having a headlight out), if he’d had his headlight repaired.
Braun, in a memo to the police chief, said he felt the officer was disrespectful.
The release of the disciplinary and use-of-force files came a few days after the Beacon City Council on May 10 discussed holding a series of community forums to solicit residents’ views on implementing the police reform plan it submitted to the state in April. The meetings would be led by the Rev. John Perez and Mark Ungar, who together headed the committee that drafted the reform plan.
“We put the document out; this will give [community members] a chance to respond to that,” said Perez, who called the meetings the first phase of implementing the reforms. “Without hearing from the community, we really don’t know what direction to take.”
But after three forums on policing held last year by Zoom, as well as public discussions organized by Beacon 4 Black Lives and other groups, “what did we not get out of those conversations that we’re looking for now?” asked Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair.
“The idea is to go out to where people live, in their parks and neighborhoods and centers, to try to reach more people,” said Ungar, who also suggested creating a one-page summary of the reform plan, “so people have something they can absorb quickly.”
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