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Syracuse Police Reform Public Hearing to Take Place Thursday

WAER File Photo

The public will have its first chance to weigh in on a draft of the Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan Thursday. The plan builds upon what was already in the works over the summer in response to the community’s demands for police accountability.

Those demands were sparked by the deaths and abuse of Black people at the hands of police officers. At a recent committee meeting, Councilor Ronnie White Jr. wanted to know what demands made it into the plan.

“If we’re supposed to take this and help improve upon it, I think it might be helpful to know specifically what these groups were asking for. Specifically who was there so we can have our own individual conversations with them and take that information and build upon what you already have presented to us.”

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said demands from the People’s Agenda for Policing are embedded into the plan, which is based on Mayor Ben Walsh’s executive order from June aimed at addressing the demands.  But she says it shouldn’t stop there.

“It should always be modified, it should always be updated, it should always have a mechanism by which we are reviewing it,” Owens said. “I had this conversation with Chief Buckner that there must be milestones added and benchmarks added. My perspective, and I’ll take ownership of it, is that to do this effectively we need to get the feedback first.”

That means from councilors, the public, and ultimately the Governor’s office.  After the city started its internal review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order calling on all police departments in the state to submit a reform plan by April with approval from the municipality’s governing body. SPD Chief Kenton Buckner says they’re working with an agency on overhauling policies to meet 21st century thinking. That includes recruitment and hiring to increase diversity.

“There’s a lot of mistrust and miscommunication on the part of the community about the hiring process, so we will have a panel of Syracuse residents that will be part of an interview panel that will interview the candidates near the end of the process.”

Buckner says the community panel will be in place for the class of officers starting in July.  The department has already made changes in how it responds to non-criminal calls, per the mayor’s executive order. Owens shared an example of the new policies in action; a call that came in for a 14-year-old threatening themselves.

“Our police force contacted Liberty Resources which has a Crisis Intervention Team. The police department secured the location, made sure everyone was safe then that team came in and was able to counsel that individual, because that’s what they’re trained to do.”

The goal is to shift from primary police response to non-police professionals.

The public hearing will be held virtually Thursday at 5:00 pm via WebEx, with additional information available on the city’s calendar. The full 76-page draft plan can be viewed here.