BALLSTON SPA — The Ballston Spa Police Department needs no major corrective measures or reforms, according to a citizen police reform study committee, though more training in de-escalation, cultural diversity and dealing with mental health situations is recommended.
The draft plan will be the topic of a Village Board public hearing on Monday and the board could take action that night, given that the April 1 deadline for municipal police reform studies is quickly approaching. The hearing, at 7 p.m., will be held via Zoom due to pandemic restrictions on in-person gatherings. Participation instructions are available from the village clerk’s office.
The committee, which was citizen-led but included Police Chief Dave Bush, began meeting in November and issued a report last week. It said its recommendations “do not represent any major corrective measures or reforms to the Police Department. Rather, they outline standards to be adopted by the Police Department and institutionalized going forward, regardless of leadership or staffing.”
“I personally think it’s a pretty good report,” said Mayor Larry Woolbright, who was a member of the committee. “We had some pretty good discussions.”
The committee said a public survey that drew about 100 responses found that the department is well-regarded by the public, but it recommended additional training in de-escalating tension situations, cultural diversity training and additional training in mental health. Mental health training needs to recognize that officers themselves can face mental health challenges, as well as needing to respond to community members with mental health issues or special needs.
The department noted that the percentage of mental health calls it is responding to has risen over the last year, in a phenomena attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted routines and increased issues with isolation and depression.
The committee also said the village should develop a written policy on culture and on-duty/off-duty behavior by officers, and establishing a regular process for officers to receive evaluations and feedback on their performance.
Among the other recommendations were some to modernize or formalize procedures: The department does not currently have a written handbook of procedures. The committee noted, however, that an effort to formalized procedures is already underway, as is development of a computer-aided records management system. The committee also recommended adoption of a formal mission statement that says the department “is committed to protecting all citizens of the village of Ballston Spa regardless of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or age.”
It was protests across the country over police-involved deaths of unarmed Blacks that led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to issue the executive order last June that requires communities across the state to review their law enforcement agencies and make any changes to address systemic racial bias. Woolbright said the issues raised are more associated with big cities than small communities, but said the committee followed state guidelines that required discussion of whether there was racial bias in policing.
“The committee was pretty independent, and looked at all the issues,” Woolbright said.
Ballston Spa has just three full-time police officers, though it employs 15 others on a part-time basis, and has two officers and vehicles on duty at all times. Chief Bush was previously full-time and performed patrol as well as supervision duties, but has shifted to a part-time role that focuses on administrative duties, including the policy and procedure updates being recommended by the committee.
The committee also recommended that it continue to meet as part of an ongoing effort to provide feedback from the community in policing issues.