New Paltz Police Officer Robert Sisco has been reinstated after being suspended for uploading a video of himself rapping, with lyrics including transphobic remarks, and xenophobic references to COVID-19.
Sisco uploaded the video in June 2020. According to Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, after a police investigation it was determined that he was most likely on duty and in a New Paltz Police vehicle when the video was recorded. In accordance with the union contract, Sisco was initially suspended with pay.
The rap included lyrics such as “There’s only two genders and Trump’s still your president. Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. This whole coronavirus was sent here from China.” It also included a line suggesting that Hillary Clinton should be “hung for treason.”
“We decided to pursue charges,” Bettez said.
To read more about the Town Board’s response earlier in the year, read here.
According to the police contract, the situation moved to arbitration. Sisco was then placed on a 30 day suspension without pay.
“Our ask of the arbitrator was that he be fired,” Bettez said. However, Bettez said that after talking with the arbitrator, it became clear that the incident would not be considered a fireable offense. “We were encouraged to negotiate with officer Sisco and his attorneys to see if we could come to some sort of an agreement,” Bettez continued.
It was agreed upon that Sisco would complete a 120 day suspension without pay, 30 of which he had already served, 20 hours of community service (which will be determined by leaders of the LGBTQ+ community in New Paltz), a formal apology and a 48-month “last chance agreement” period in which Sisco can be fired at anytime for another incident of this kind.
Even though charges were pursued and termination was sought, not everyone felt the final agreement was enough.
“As a trans person it was scary to see someone feel so safe in their hate as to spew blatant transphobia while in uniform and a patrol car,” said third-year SUNY New Paltz student Naomi Hertz.
Javay, a fifth-year SUNY New Paltz student, said the reinstatement felt “like a slap in the face” and that the agreement was “not enough.”
“I feel like [for these types of apologies], whether it be in writing or in video or anything like that like those only goes so far,” Javay said. “For a lot of people who usually tend to make those sort of public apologies usually and going back to continue doing the same thing that they were originally doing.”
This prospect of future incidents is a concern for the trans community of New Paltz.
“I do feel him being in a position of power [as] a cop, [with] the poor history [between] the trans community and police in general, that him being reinstated is a threat to the large trans population of New Paltz,” Hertz said.
When asking Bettez about what members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color could do to voice concerns and complaints, he stated that people can reach out to him at the town supervisor’s office and that there are complaint forms online. He added that complaints can also be filed with the police at any time and that there is a police reform committee where people can voice their concerns during the meetings. For more information on the reform committee check here.
“We’re supposed to be a progressive, tolerant town where we take care of the people who feel vulnerable, and Officer Sisco destroyed that trust,” Bettez said.
“Knowing that people who are supposed to be in charge of keeping the town safe have prejudiced biases, against people who live here – it’s definitely not like a comfortable feeling,” Javay said.