Incoming council members say deal limits city
The Beacon City Council and the police officers’ union have agreed to a four-year contract that city officials say opens the door for the department to hire new officers from the most diverse candidate pool in years.
The council approved the agreement, 6-0, at its Nov. 15 meeting. Council Member Air Rhodes was absent.
Critics, including at least two members of the incoming council who will be seated in January, say the deal locks the city into an outdated policing model.
The previous contract, a three-year agreement, ends on Dec. 31. The new agreement includes 2 percent annual salary increases for patrol officers and 3 percent for lieutenants, along with $1,000 annual stipends for bilingual officers.
It requires the department to have at least one sergeant and three patrol officers on duty at all times; expands the use of civilian dispatchers, freeing officers for patrol duty; and extends health benefits for immediate family members of any officer killed on duty.
Having the agreement in place also will allow the city to hire officers from Dutchess County’s latest civil service list, which is expected to be released in January. The list includes far more women and Black and Latino candidates than in the past, so the department — which has five, and soon to be six, openings — should be able to hire officers who make the force more representative of Beacon’s diverse population.
Before ratifying the agreement, the council met on Nov. 8 with members of a committee appointed to develop recommendations based on the city’s Police Reform and Modernization Collaborative Plan.
Mark Ungar, a political science and criminal justice professor at City University of New York and one of the committee co-chairs, said during the meeting that the contract encourages a more diverse police force through its bilingual stipend; provides incentives for advancement, which will strengthen officer retention; and does not inhibit the city’s initiatives to reimagine public safety, such as through the addition this year of a mental health caseworker.
When asked whether the contract would tie the city’s hands when it comes to more reforms, Ungar said: “I don’t see that at all. I see it as fortifying it.”
But Xavier Mayo, a member of the committee and one of the organizers of Beacon 4 Black Lives, disagreed. The deal shows that Beacon “still relies on a system that disenfranchises and hurts people,” he said. Instead, the city “should look outside the box, be the model of something different.”
Mayo, along with Justice McCray and Paloma Wake, two incoming council members who criticized the agreement, have said that the four-year contract binds the city to continue spending about a quarter of its general fund budget, just under $6 million, on the Police Department.
“This collective bargaining agreement does affect the city’s ability to institute changes moving forward,” Wake said during the Monday meeting, noting that she fears proposed community safety initiatives, such as civilian oversight of the police, will fall by the wayside.
On Monday, Mayor Lee Kyriacou reminded the council before its vote that Beacon’s spending on police is the lowest per capita ($272 per resident in 2018) in the Mid-Hudson region, according to data collected by the state comptroller.
Council Member George Mansfield, who was reelected to his at-large seat on Nov. 2, said he felt that the contract does not preclude any of the goals for the department expressed by members of the public, while Amber Grant, the other at-large member, who is leaving, emphasized that the “scope of police reform needs to be broadened so it is more of an umbrella of community safety,” including housing security and adequate mental health care, among other initiatives.
“There are so many things that we can do,” agreed Council Member Terry Nelson, who represents Ward 1 but did not seek reelection.