NISKAYUNA — The town has hired an outside consulting firm to help officials determine whether the Niskayuna Police Department is dealing appropriately with racial issues.
The Town Board voted unanimously last Thursday to hire private non-profit research firm CNA of Arlington, Virginia, to conduct the review. It will be paid just over $25,000 to develop a report which will be due to the Town Board by March 15 — an effort to meet a state deadline of April 1 to submit a report on local police reform needs.
The hiring is part of the town’s efforts to comply with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order requiring all communities with law enforcement agencies to conduct police reform studies, following national Black Lives Matter protests this past summer over the police killings of several Black people.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the result of their audit,” said Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed.
CNA has done similar police reform and racial justice studies for other communities, and is currently working on a study with the Albany Police Department. The studies document and analyze police interactions with different segments of the public, including minorities.
“We really based this on what Albany has done, although they are a very different community with different challenges than we have,” said Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw, who co-sponsored the resolution. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about race, and about equity and justice, but it is all anecdotal, and this would give us data.”
The goal of the governor’s proposal to improve trust between police and communities and address any racial bias of disproportionate policing of communities of color, according to the governor’s office.
CNA said it will be conduct an internal assessment to determine if the town is promoting racial justice and equity or perpetuating racism, racial injustice and inequality, and make recommendations to improve transparency and establish better community relations.
Funding is available in the 2020 town budget, McGraw said. She credited town Comptroller Ismat Alam, who contacted consultants, negotiated a fee structure and provided valuable insight in the selection process.
Having an outside consultant do the analysis means Police Department leadership doesn’t have to take time away from other duties to gather the data the state wants, McGraw said.
McGraw said from what she knows the Niskayuna Police Department is a professional department well-regarded in its interactions with the public. “I think by all accounts police interactions with the community have been positive, but you don’t know what you don’t know,” she said.
If CNA’s Police Department work is helpful, McGraw said the project could be expanded to look at the racial equity policies of other town departments.
There are several minority officers in the Police Department, McGraw noted. Niskayuna at the time of the 2010 census was about 91 percent white, 6 percent Asian, and 2 percent Black.
Syed said the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative formed by the town to develop the police reform plan, including CNA’s input, was scheduled to hold its first meeting earlier this week.
The 23-member panel includes Syed and Police Chief Frances Wall as co-leaders, with members Anjalee Modasra, of the non-profit 15-LOVE; Ellen Daviero, Conservation Advisory Council member; Ismat Alam, town comptroller; Town Board member Bill McPartlon; Chandler Frontero from Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office; Steve Signore, county Public Defender’s Office; Aliya Saeed, Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association; Donald Whisenhunt, Mom’s Demand Action; Anthony Commanzo and Lenny Chase, Niskayuna Police Benevolent Association; Rabbi Matthew Cutler, Schenectady Clergy Against Hate; Jon Lemelin and Larry Ritter, town Task Force on Racial Equity and Justice; Alexis Kim, deputy town attorney; Dr. Odo Butler, NAACP; Dr. Cosimo Tangorra, Niskayuna Central School District superintendent; Bob Winchester and Meghna Tetambe, Niskayuna Community Action Program; Ayah Osman, Niskayuna Alumni Diversity Association; Ayo Elefontuyi, Story Activists; Dr. Frederick Wetzel, Niskayuna Community Foundation; Chief Deputy John Lubrant, Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department; and Joseph Twitty, Police Department detective sergeant.