Town Board grapples with community policing - BlueStone Press
July 1, 2022

Town Board grapples with community policing


Rochester’s Town Board has been grappling with issues pertaining to its constabulary since last winter. At that time town supervisor Mike Baden commissioned a thorough analysis of Rochester’s constabulary from an outside consultant. Finding that the board didn’t feel qualified to make decisions based on that report – which was extensive – last month Baden put together an ad hoc committee of two retired police administrators, Rochester residents Gerry Fornino and Ron Lapp, and Planning Board member AnneMarie Moloney, to read the report and advise the board.

At around the same time, Gov. Cuomo put out an executive order instructing the state’s police departments to review their policies and procedures, a reaction to the nationwide (and local) protests over police bias and its use of force; so the board is now taking that into consideration as they continue to trade ideas about how to deal with the issue.

At previous meetings, board member Erin Enouen introduced the idea of a citizen forum in addition to the ad hoc committee. One of her concerns is that, although Rochester’s constabulary hasn’t been cited for racial bias, she wants to make sure that never happens. At the Town Board’s July 6 meeting, as Enouen read through her notes from previous meetings, the subject of white privilege came up for discussion. She observed that though Rochester has been nearly all white for a very long time, we know that that will probably change … we also have visitors coming to our community … and we want to make everyone feel welcome.”

Board member Bea Haugen-Depuy commented, “I have never, in the Town of Rochester, had the need to know how many white, Hispanic, Black, Indians were here, because it never mattered to me. If I treat everyone with the same respect, it isn’t a problem. I don’t care if you’re green with pink polka dots and fox ears … people are people. It’s unfortunate it had to come to this again … I went through all this in the ’60s.”

On the other hand, said board member Chris Hewitt, I’ve been having conversations with friends in Kerhonkson and I’ve heard racism.” He related hearing someone say that Black people “like poverty.” Enouen added, I had a guest who was looking at house properties and has someone scream at her, ‘Get out of my neighborhood.’ She didn’t feel safe there. We want to make doubly sure that [the constables] do their absolute best, so that everyone who comes here, and who lives here, feels like they’re treated fairly and equally.” Baden put in, I think it’s really important that they get that training. Our constables might have to respond to a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute that is, at heart, racist, and they’re going to have to know how to defuse that situation. They have a pretty good track record … and I want to continue that.”

“And we want to make sure people of color feel safe in calling the constables,” Enouen added.

“I get that,” Haugen-Depuy said. “I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, that’s all that worries me.”

“I don’t think we are,” answered Baden. We’re preparing our constables for what might occur in the future … It’s anybody who is different from the vast majority of the population, it’s not just color of skin.”

Enouen read through the resolution she had drafted, with feedback from the others: The board has created an ad hoc committee of residents with law-enforcement backgrounds in order to generate a written report with recommendations for the Town Board on police policies and procedures. In order to gain perspective from those in our community with expertise on modern community peace programs … and to engage town residents in the discussion, the town shall [hold] a moderated panel discussion and public forum … with panelists with broad expertise in community policing. The panel can include but is not limited to those with experience in criminal justice reform, alternative peace officer models, de-escalation techniques, special law-enforcement issues facing rural communities, the history of constabularies in New York and our town, and those with a legal background in such issues. The panel discussion will be open to the public with a question-and-answer period.”

After getting input from the panel and comments from the public, Enouen went on, “the Town Board will draft a new resolution outlining the duties of the constabulary. It will be presented to the public for a reasonable period of public comment, after which time the board will consider the comment, make revisions if needed, and vote on the resolution.”

Public comment, suggested in the Governor’s directive, is not the same as a formal public hearing, Baden told Haugen-Depuy, who thought that the process seemed slow and cumbersome. It’s feedback on our resolution before we vote on it,” said Baden.

The timeline for the committee report and the panel discussion will be the rest of the summer; the entire process, Baden estimated, should be completed by the end of the year.


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