Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to “reinvent and modernize police strategies and programs with community input,” the Town of New Paltz has created the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee.
Gov. Cuomo signed his executive order on June 12. On July 2, the Town of New Paltz followed suit with the reform committee, which is made up of six volunteers. The committee’s goal is to see how the town “can be more in tune to our minority communities, how we can better have policing in our community, how we can reevaluate what we even use police for,” said Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Torres.
The town website’s post about the committee says that the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd have magnified the racism, injustice and oppression within American communities. “We must recognize the opportunity to take a hard look at how we perpetuate these systems right here in New Paltz, and we must pledge to make courageous and bold change so we can ensure equity and justice in our community,” read the post.
Spokesperson of the committee, Esi Lewis, attended the joint village and town board meeting on Wednesday to give the New Paltz officials updates as to what the reform collaborative is working on. So far, the committee has been receiving overviews from other reform committees and are currently working on submitting their own budget.
“It’s a little bit of a unique thing because every community is kind of doing this a little bit differently. There’s not a great set of guidelines on how we should do this,” Torres said. “We have been looking at [how] other communities are handling this, to see if there’s a way ours can be better or more inclusive, and at the same time we’re working with the police department to better understand policies that they have to understand their budgets and [the] kind of intricacies of the department at large.”
The Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee has been actively seeking community opinions. Torres said that overall, the New Paltz community wants to see change within their police department.
Common complaints among the community include the police department’s budget and the volume of police officers patrolling New Paltz between the town department, University Police Department and sherrifs.
The total expenses for the Town of New Paltz Police Department’s 2020 summary budget was $2,547,158. With the national call to defund the police, some New Paltz residents hold that sentiment.
In their proposal for affordable housing, discussed at the Sept. 9 meeting, Liat Guvenc said they spoke with Stefon Seward, community organizer and leader for “Beacon 4 Black Lives.” Seward suggested that the town make cuts to the number of police officers and equipment in order to fund affordable housing.
Torres said that some arguments for reallocating the police budget does not fall within the municipal government.
“More broadly, I do think that we should talk about our funding levels and see if there are areas in policing that we should actually be funding more or that we should be funding less,” Torres said. “I think all those conversations are on the table.”