|New Paltz Women in Black Vigil photo: Lauren Thomas of Hudson Valley One|
We think it is imperative that we use this time of racial reckoning to make transformative changes to policing in our town. As many other communities are doing, we feel it is vital that we reallocate police funds to local health and human services that would alleviate causes of crime and make our community safer, stronger and more connected. We also propose the following changes to make our police force more accountable and transparent. If you live in New Paltz or its environs please let us know if we can add your name or the name of your organization to this statement. Write to email@example.com with your name or reply in the comments below. You will be endorsing this statement that does not include the photo above. Over 60 individuals and five organizations have signed on so far. Thank you!
New Paltz Women in Black Statement on New Paltz Police Reform and Reinvention
For the last twenty years, New Paltz Women in Black has been an important presence in our community. You can see us any Saturday, standing vigil outside the Elting Library for peace and justice and against war, militarism and violence in all its forms around the world. Hundreds have joined our vigils over the years and thousands of local people have attended our special demonstrations and marches that have ranged from calling for the end of family separation and the caging of children to our November 2019 protest, Honor Diversity—Defeat White Supremacy. At this moment in 2021, we are joining the effort to reimagine the ways in which New Paltz provides for the safety of our community.
We have a unique window of opportunity to reform and reinvent police in communities across the nation. In 2020, the brutal killing of George Floyd coming on top of the killings and mistreatment of thousands of other unarmed black and brown people through the years, reinvigorated the movement for black lives that historically is as significant as the Civil Rights protests of the 1960’s. It led to over 25 million Americans of all colors, ages and backgrounds, including hundreds here in New Paltz, taking to the streets to demand real change.
The recent police response to the violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol also shows the inherent disparity in police response based on race.
The history of policing as an arm of Jim Crow, the reality of structural racism, and the role it has played in the unequal treatment of people of color for centuries, are part of the background to any discussion of law enforcement. It begins with every police department in our nation rooting out any officers who show any affiliation with white supremacy.
Our goal is to have a more secure and safe community for everyone. In compliance with Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 seeking community input, we are making the following proposals.
We envision a town in which many of the current responsibilities of the police are carried out by civilians and much of the $2.8 million which has been allocated to policing can be used more directly for the good of our community and to alleviate causes of crime and violence.
Funds should be reinvested in mental health care and drug treatment services right in town. Our community should provide services, such as: day care and after school programs for children of working parents, food security, and affordable housing. Such programs will go a long way toward reducing underlying societal problems that often lead to crime.
We envision many roles for civilian employees of the town, rather than having armed police respond to all 911 calls
Social workers hired by the town should be responsible for intervening when someone has a mental health crisis or drug overdose along with medical first responders. They should accompany police in situations of domestic abuse.
Civilian peacekeepers employed by the town and empowered to write tickets should respond to noise complaints, whether these are the result of loud parties in someone’s home or boisterous customers leaving bars at closing time. If peacekeepers feel there’s a situation, they can’t handle they would call in uniformed police.
Civilian peacekeepers can also be trained to go to the scene of a car crash, write tickets if appropriate, and write up the accident report.
Police should not be in the schools. Civilian peacekeepers can check people in and help to maintain order in the schools.
In cases of violence involving weapons, the police would respond.
To reduce the number of guns in the community, we support an annual gun buy-back program.
Police numbers can be reduced without any adverse impact on public safety as there are many departments policing our community. In addition to the New Paltz Police Department (budget of $2.8 million), there is the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office (budget of over $3 million), SUNY New Paltz Police and the New York State Police which has a statewide budget of $1 billion with five stations in Ulster County.
Transparency and Accountability Build Trust
The public has a right to know how the New Paltz Police Department spends its funds. The full police budget should be released each year.
For armed, uniformed police, body and dashboard cameras must be required with penalties for turning them off, and the recordings must be made accessible to the public in a timely fashion.
A community oversight commission with subpoena power should be established to review police conduct as a matter of course. It should have the power to conduct investigations and to make disciplinary recommendations.
Police misconduct records should be made accessible to the public.
We oppose police use of military weapons, equipment or tactics, or any training that emphasizes a warrior, rather than a peacekeeper mentality.
Training should emphasize how to deescalate situations and teach mediation skills, nonviolent conflict resolution, ethics and diversity training.
Local police should not assist immigration law enforcement.
We support ending qualified immunity in its current form that makes it almost impossible for officers to be held responsible for violating a person’s constitutional rights.
The department policy on use of force should be available for public scrutiny to ensure the police always use the least force possible,
Officers should be required to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.
Attack dogs should be banned.
The restructuring we propose will enable our community to provide services that will decrease crime and provide citizens with the mental health, drug treatment and other services needed for them to live healthy and productive lives.
When there is transparency and accountability, trust for the police is enhanced and public cooperation and respect for their work increases. It begins with the police treating every person they encounter with respect and dignity and their actions being carried out with the highest degree of professionalism. Streamlining the roles police play will also contribute to the public’s appreciation for the times they are indispensable for our safety.
Organizations Endorsing this Statement
Concerned Parents of New Paltz
DeFacto Community Center Project
New Paltz Coalition for Community Safety and Well Being
Helen Coyle Bergstein
Kevin F. Kelly