SARATOGA SPRINGS — A newly created citizen review board will have its first meeting within the next two months, according to Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin.
Martin said the board — intended to enhance communication between city residents and police — will not have any investigative powers. It will meet twice a year and can add “extraordinary meetings” whenever issues arise.
“The purpose of the Citizen Advisory Board is to improve communications in two directions: communications coming from the citizens to our Police Department and communications from our Police Department to them,” Martin said on Tuesday. “The goal is to improve our policing in Saratoga Springs.” The details of how the board will operate will be discussed by the board.
The board’s powers are limited by local law, state law, and the city’s contract with the Police Department’s union, Martin said. Its creation comes after recent controversy over a foot pursuit through the city that happened five years ago left 21-year-old Darryl Mount Jr. with severe injuries. Mount fell into a coma after the incident and died nine months later.
In August, scrutiny was cast upon the Police Department’s handling of the case after a report by The Times Union revealed Police Chief Greg Veitch lied to the press and the public by saying the chase was reviewed in an internal investigation that, in fact, never happened.
That spurred a renewed call, during the City Council’s August meeting, for formation of the review board; others, including Mount’s mother, Patty Jackson, had urged a similar effort years earlier.
Jackson was not pleased with plans for the new review board as outlined by Martin.
“They have no investigative authority, and all they can do is advise, so the board is bull—-,” Jackson said on Tuesday. “All they’re trying to do is shut me up.” She argued that there is no board to discipline the police chief for lying about an investigation.
A challenge Martin said he faced in creating the board was the city’s unique form of government and the scarcity of similar programs across the country.
“We’ve looked around at the 18,000 police departments in the United States, and there are some 200 that have [a similar program],” Martin said.
In fact, Martin was initially opposed to the creation of such a board, telling The Daily Gazette in August: “We’re best served by not having one.”
“The terminology sounds great, but the question is, does it bring advantages to the city? And after researching civilian review boards, the answer is no,” Martin said in August, adding, “It’s not something you’d pick up for light reading — it takes study, and it’s something I’ve familiarized myself with because it’s part of my job.”
Ultimately, Martin said he put in the time to do the heavy reading and found a narrow solution.
A lack of precedent for cities the size of Saratoga Springs to have advisory boards, coupled with the city’s commissioner-style of government, ultimately left Martin with only one comparable program: Portland, Oregon’s Citizen Review Committee.
“There’s nothing else that’s like that,” Martin said of the Portland model, which has the power to investigate and compel data from the Police Department, according to that city’s website.
Martin said the final steps in putting the review board into action include finding a representative selection of members and then coordinating their schedules for the two annual meetings.