The results are in from a major community engagement effort to see what Syracuse residents and other stakeholders would like to see in a new police chief. Months of meetings and outreach culminated in the release of the 74-page report. The recurring themes of accountability and commitment to the community resonated with a pair of common councilors.
Accountability…or high standards for officers, was the top concern among survey respondents. Clearly police-community interaction is still on the minds of many, including council president Helen Hudson.
"If you commit a crime, you know that you're going to be arrested and sent to jail. But minimal crimes should not be cause for a lot of the aggression that takes place. People want to see accountability. I get phone calls from folks on a daily basis. Some of it [aggression] is warranted, but a lot of it is not."
Hudson says residents just want to be treated with respect. She and councilor Steve Thompson say communication can establish a relationship that fosters mutual understanding.
"There is no chief that sits there that does not want to be very much involved in the community and also have community support. The way you get community support is through dialogue."
Thompson served for 35 years in the department, retiring as chief in 2009. He says every chief going back to the 1970’s has urged officers to get out of their cars and simply talk to people on their beat…if only for a moment.
"You can lead into the converstation like that...'hey, I only have a couple of minutes. I have only until the call me on the squawk box, which might be two minutes or five. I just wanted to stop in an introduce myself, I'm working this territory.' Nobody is above that. That's who we're working for."
The survey results also indicated a desire for a chief that can understand the diverse community the department serves, and more diversity within the department. But the city has consistently fallen short of a 1980 federal consent decree where the SPD set a goal of 10 percent black officers in all ranks. As of last year, the percentage was 7 percent in a city that’s nearly 30 percent African American, and nearly 50 percent people of color. Hudson attributes part of the problem to something else residents say they’d like to see.
"Not just women and people of color, but more residency. They feel if the police chief and officers live within the city and down the street as their neighbors, the whole dynamic out here would be a lot different."
But a 1970’s era state law grants a residency waiver to police, firefighters, and DPW workers. It was mainly aimed at New York City due to the high cost of living. But Hudson says that’s not a problem here, and it has a negative impact across Upstate. The state and police union have repeatedly shot down attempts by city hall to require city residency for its officers.
The Walsh administration hopes to have a new police chief in place by year's end.