SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mayor Meg Kelly on Tuesday named a 13-member task force that will undertake a state-mandated effort to consider the need for any reforms in the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
“I do believe that we are all Saratogians and we have lived in harmony for a long time, and if we need to make changes, lets make them now. Now is the time,” Kelly said.
The appointments were made in response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s June executive order that requires all police agencies in the state to gather input and consider reform in light of concerns about racial justice.
Saratoga Springs has recently received criticism for the police response to local Black Lives Matter protests, including one last Thursday that resulted in arrests.
Most communities in the state are early in the planning of how to respond to the governor’s order. Saratoga Springs is among the first to actually name members to a task force that will look at police reform.
The governor’s order came just weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis who died while being arrested. The death, along with other recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police across the nation, reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests calling for racial justice have taken place across the country.
The task force will be chaired by City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis, and include Police Chief Shane Crooks. Kelly picked DeLeonardis and three other members, while each of the city’s four commissioners named two members.
Kelly’s other appointments were Winston Grady-Willis, director of the Black Studies program at Skidmore College; Terry Diggory of the Saratoga Immigration Coalition; and Chuck Caputo, of Saratoga Pride.
Other members are Daesha Harris of Martin Luther King Saratoga and Kristin Dart, appointed by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan; Cecilia Hayes and Camille Daniels, who will be vice chairperson, named by Accounts Commissioner John Franck; Steven Boxley and Kimberly A. Galvin, named by Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco; and Jason Golub and Andrew Sephas, named by Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
The task force will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Saratoga Springs City Center. All meetings will be open to the public and will include a public comment period, Kelly said. The meetings will also be recorded and archived on the city website.
Kelly said the task force will take input from the community and non-profit organizations and meet with elected officials and justice system officials, including the District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office, and develop “evidence-based policing strategies” to improve police-community relations and seek to eliminate any racial disparities in policing.
The plan the group develops will be submitted to the City Council, which under the terms of Cuomo’s order must act on it by April 1.
“We welcome and embrace any opportunity to improve as a Police Department,” said Dalton, who oversees the department.
City police have come under criticism for their response to events on July 30, when a “Back the Blue” rally in support of police was met with a counter-demonstration by Black Lives Matter supporters. The BLM demonstrators remained after the pro-police rally broke up, and blocked Broadway near Congress Park. Police used pepper balls and made three arrests when it got dark and demonstrators refused to leave the road.
Earlier in Tuesday’s City Council meeting — held via Zoom — several people who participated in the BLM demonstration spoke during the public comment period, accusing police of using excessive force and/or of racism in their response. Police leadership have defended the department’s actions, saying the arrival of darkness was creating a hazard for both protesters and motorists if protesters didn’t leave the road.
“We did our absolute best to protect all lives and make sure no one was injured, and I stand by everything that happened that evening,” said Dalton, who was on the scene.
“We may never agree with each other, but we need to come together as a community, we need to temper our use of force and aggression, and we need to temper our responses to things we might find are a bit aggressive,” said Madigan, who said she has watched numerous videos from the protest.
“I hope we can make this task force a success, because I want to see our community do better,” Madigan said.
Separately, Dalton, who said she has been meeting with Black residents to hear about their concerns and frustrations, said she is forming a community outreach team to gather additional input. Anyone interested in being part of the outreach effort can email [email protected]