Council wants feedback from citizen committee
The Beacon City Council appears ready to approve a four-year contract with the police officers’ union but wants first to hear from a citizen committee charged with overseeing law enforcement reform.
That discussion is expected to happen during the council’s workshop on Monday (Nov. 8), which would make the following week the earliest the agreement could be ratified.
Two sides are seemingly at odds. Some activists and residents have called for sweeping reforms in the department and in how Beacon envisions public safety, while other residents and city officials feel the police have performed admirably since being released from U.S. Department of Justice oversight in 2016.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou in June appointed a nine-member committee to develop recommendations based on the city’s Police Reform and Modernization Collaborative Plan, which was released in March. It is led by the co-chairs of the group that drafted the plan: the Rev. John Perez of Faith Temple Church and Mark Ungar, a political science and criminal justice professor at City University of New York.
On the table
City Administrator Chris White briefed the council on the proposed agreement during its Oct. 25 workshop. The deal would run through 2025 and includes 2 percent cost-of-living salary increases for patrol officers and 3 percent for lieutenants, along with $1,000 annual stipends for bilingual officers.
He said the document also clarifies that, at minimum, a sergeant and three patrol officers must be on duty at all times; along with a proposal in the city’s 2022 budget, expands the use of civilian dispatchers to all shifts, freeing officers for patrol duty; and extends health benefits for immediate family members of any officer killed on duty.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the proposed contract would be realized early next year, White said, when Dutchess County releases its new civil service list from which municipalities can hire new officers. It is based on an exam offered in September for the first time since 2017 — one that’s expected to generate one of the most diverse candidate pools ever.
To encourage people to take the exam, Dutchess waived a $25 fee and recruited applicants on social media, at Hudson Valley Renegades games and at housing complexes. The county also gave applicants up to five years after they are hired to complete the 60 college credits required for the exam.
Although applicants were not required to report race or gender, of those who did, 119 identified as Black, more than double the number in 2017; 249 as Latino, more than triple; 218 as women, nearly double; and 17 as Asian, compared to 9 in 2017.
Overall, there were 1,380 applications, a 57 percent increase. In contrast, Beacon’s Police Department has four Latino, two Black and two female employees among its 30 officers and detectives, while the city’s population is nearly 20 percent Latino and 14 percent Black.
There are five vacancies in the Beacon department, with a sixth coming soon when an officer retires, which means “you can really change the future of the department through those five or six hires,” White told the council.
On Monday (Nov. 1), however, more than a dozen residents, including Justice McCray and Paloma Wake, who were both elected the next day to the City Council, urged the council to delay approving the agreement. As one resident who called in to the meeting noted, approving the agreement before the end of the year “would make it close to impossible for the next City Council to make many crucial decisions about public safety in the city budget.”
Along with McCray and Wake, Wren Longno and Molly Rhodes were elected, as were incumbents Dan Aymar-Blair and George Mansfield. The new council will be seated in January.
Wake pointed out what she called “inconsistency” between a resolution approved last year by the council and “what this contract would commit the city to.”
That resolution, an addition to the state-required police reform plan ordered of municipalities by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, called for the police chief to conduct “a thorough review of police training, culminating in a data-driven set of recommendations for improving” the department’s training and measuring its benefits.
The resolution also directed the chief and/or city administrator to produce numerous other reports, including on use-of-force, weapons, alternative responders in nonviolent situations and the city’s policy on psychological supportive care for officers. It also called for a multi-year schedule for implicit bias training for all city staff, including police officers.
Wake said the proposed union contract fails to provide data backing up the department’s personnel needs, nor does it delineate “multi-year budget implications of any police reform, with the intention to redirect cost savings into community investment,” as the resolution requires.
“The city needs to hold itself accountable to the resolution it made last year,” she said.
Perez called in to the meeting, saying: “As a man who is of Puerto Rican descent, we need more people who are bilingual on [the police] staff.” As far as the elements of the contract proposal, “none of these really contradict what we’ve been doing on the committee,” he said. “Our biggest focus has been mental health [services, as an alternative to traditional policing] and recruitment [of more diverse officers].”
But “there’s more to it than that,” countered Aymar-Blair. “There’s a discussion to be had by the council,” which has the responsibility of supervising the citizen committee’s work and accepting its recommendations.
White, speaking later during Monday’s meeting, after the council candidates and other commenters had departed, warned there would be significant “real-world consequences” if the proposed contract is not approved before the county releases its next civil service list, which is expected in January.
The last two contracts with Beacon officers were three years each, but four-year or longer agreements are typical for the region, White said. Having an agreement in place creates a “competitive advantage when you’re trying to retain and attract your talent,” while delaying the contract would “make it less attractive to come here to Beacon.”
“We’ve heard a lot about either/or,” he said, referring to the city embracing mental health workers and other policing alternatives, but “we’re not doing [the contract] at the cost of everything else. We want all these public safety things to advance,” White explained, noting that the city has grown enough that it can afford to allocate $200,000 for the first time ever to ambulance services.
Mike Confield, a sergeant and the vice president of the Beacon officers’ union, addressed the council at the end of the meeting. “My phone’s been blowing up,” he said. “My membership is a little disappointed with pushing the vote back” two more weeks.
Officers in the department are waiting on the outcome of the contract negotiations before considering possible career moves, Confield added. “My officers are looking for some job stability. I don’t know how many more we can lose and still run smoothly.”