Many new police reform committees formed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 are coming under fire for their lack of efficacy. The New Paltz Police Reform and Reinvention Committee was formed in response to Executive Order 203 in July 2020.
Executive Order 203 was implemented in order to review current ways of policing and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.
In a letter to Gov. Cuomo, New York Attorney General Leticia James, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Michael H. Sussman, Esq., Luisa A. Fuentes, Esq. and 311 others, argue that this executive order isn’t working, and that the police reform committees aren’t doing enough.
Fuentes, who has not specifically interacted with the New Paltz Police Reform and Reinvention Committee, but has worked with groups and individuals throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley regarding Executive Order 203 said that “99% of municipalities are refusing to take EO 203 seriously.”
“I think the committees are a sham only caring about ensuring their own financial stability and not about making real changes in their police departments or trying to come right by Black communities and other communities of color,” Fuentes said. “[T]hey refuse to address the issue of racism in policing and specifically in their police departments AND/OR they refuse to acknowledge systemic and institutionalized racism in policing, the US in general and specifically in their municipalities/police departments. Many also refuse to acknowledge the racism inherent in the history of American policing.”
Some of these 311 other signatories include New Paltz residents and organizations.
“Few, if any, people of color/Black people on the committees,” the letter reads. “There are other municipalities, like the Town of New Paltz and in the Ulster County Justice Reform Commission, where on the surface, communities of color have been appointed but there has been little meaningful engagement, empowerment, and inclusion of community stakeholders in decision-making.”
Katari Sisa, of the New Paltz Socialists, was in attendance at the most recent town hall of The New Paltz Police Reform and Reinvention Committee.
“The committee meeting was incredibly unprofessional, it lacked an agenda, any kind of witten mission statement, any clear plan or set of goals,” Sisa said. “When pressured on what their actual goals of collecting community input they ultimately confessed that they are simply creating a ‘laundry list’ of input with no clear direction.”
Sisa also commented on the issues of communicating with the committee, stating that some of their coworkers “have been trying to communicate with them via email but only receive automated answers.”
Village Board Trustee Alex Wojcik also commented on the inter-complexities of policing in the history of New Paltz in regards to the village and the town. They pointed out the fact that the police department of the Village of New Paltz was dissolved in 1979 and that the Town Police started covering the village as well. In addition, there was originally an independent police commission composed of volunteers, however, though she cannot remember specifically at what point, this commission essentially became the Town Board.
“I understand that criticism because it comes from a history of the town for not being very open with their communication in a way that all of us understand and that is accessible to all of us, you know, you have to go and look for the information to find it. So, all the criticisms are totally valid but they might be a little bit misdirected when they’re at the volunteers instead of at the town board,” Wojcik said.
Wojcik brought up that the committee is not done listening to people’s concerns.
“As a white person with a voice at the table, I gotta take a moment to check my privilege and trust in these volunteers, on the steering committee, you know? And they’re in their process and trust it and watch it play out, and trust that it’s only the beginning,” Wojcik said.
During a Feb. 4, joint Town and Village Board meeting, Esi Lewis the Spokesperson for the committee, provided an update on the committee’s actions.
“We are still listening and meeting with stakeholders. We are on the tail end of that but we are still taking time to do that to make sure that all the voices that want to be heard are getting heard,” Esi Lewis said. “We have started to put pen to paper in our report. We are currently working on an outline…[starting] with the four corners that are required of us by EO 203.”
The New Paltz Police Reform and Reinvention Committee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“EO 203 should be an opportunity for communities to create a clear agenda on how they want their communities to improve,” Sisa said.