On Oct. 22, 2020, the Police Reform and Reinvention Steering Committee held its first “listening session” virtually.
This committee was formed under Governor Executive Order 203, New State Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.
The executive order states that “urgent and immediate action is needed to eliminate racial inequities in policing, to modify and modernize policing strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, and to develop practices to better address the particular needs of communities of color to promote public safety, improve community engagement and foster trust.”
According to Randall Leverette, the Co-Facilitator of the Steering Committee, who also opened the Zoom session, the goals of the committee include reviewing the “needs of the community” and the current policies of the police, looking into racism in policing, involving the community in discussions, drafting a plan for review by the public before bringing a plan to the Town Board.
The Zoom meeting was recorded and can be viewed here. However, during the live meeting there was an interruption which was edited out of the uploaded video, and the people involved were removed.
Nov. 14 update: "The edit was a result of an uninvited and inappropriate interruption including pornography and the use of racial slurs," said the committee's spokesperson Esi Lewis. "Moving forward, we will mute all participants upon entry and attempt to verify participants while remaining open to the public."
During the meeting, various members of the community received three minutes to speak about things. Topics included the Robert Sisco case, which was reported on here, the Echoll’s incident, which was reported on here, as well as the police budget, the role of the town hall in previous police concerns, and suggested solutions for problems, such as specialized crisis response teams and ways for the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD) to become more transparent.
Many participants shared their own findings and information that they had gained in their own research.
For example, Harper Keehn, a participant in the listening session, shared what she learned after she filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the police from Sept. 15, 2019 to Sept. 2020. Keehn then said “In that time, less than half of one percent of the calls that NPPD responded to were for violent incidents.”
Other participants also frequently pointed out the amount of money allocated to the NPPD. According to Open Book New York, for the 2019 Town of New Paltz budget, the NPPD received over $2.8 million. This is more than $2 million dollars above what the budget allotted for the Fire Department and Ambulance Services combined.
However, it wasn’t just budgetary and incident related commentary from the members of the public. It was also about the reason for the police reform committee in the first place: racism.
Tanya Marquette, another participant in the session, repositioned the conversation around racism toward the end of the Zoom.
“I’m a little disturbed that this has not been the center of the conversation,” Marquette said. “I read EO203 several times and the essence of that document was to deal with racism and police misbehavior, really, towards people of color and other marginalized people. The issue of racism is just absolutely entrenched in policing.”
In November and December, there will be private group Zoom sessions to continue the discussion.
To reach the committee, they can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.