SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council appears ready to accept most of a police reform task force’s recommendations, but members of the task force and community activists say they’re concerned that there’s still no commitment for a civilian police review board to independently review complaints against police.
“We are still deeply concerned it only sets up an independent committee to look at a civilian review board,” Camille Daniels, a co-chair of the task force, said at a rally Monday evening on the steps of City Hall. About 50 people, many of them local activists, attended.
The City Council is set to hold a workshop discussion on the task force’s 50-point plan Tuesday evening and take a vote on the draft police reform plan at a special meeting on March 31 — the night before the statewide deadline for acting on the reform initiatives. Activists said they plan to offer public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.
The draft resolution discussed at last week’s council meeting was updated Monday to accept nearly all of the recommendations of the citizen police reform committee, though concluding that some initiatives would be subject to city budget appropriations. It also noted the potential obstacles to complying with the key recommendation regarding a police civilian review board, which would review complaints and internal disciplinary actions within the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
“Let’s not drag our feet and continue to evaluate.” said a Black Lives Matter Saratoga member, Chandler Hickenbottom. “We’re not asking any more, we’re demanding.”
City officials have said creating a civilian police review board would probably involve renegotiating union contracts, possibly amendments to the City Charter and possibly litigation.
Any change to the City Charter would require voter approval. A series of efforts to change the charter — some involving a full government restructuring, others involving relatively small modernizations — have been voted down in recent years.
Cities including Schenectady and Albany have civilian police review boards, though the rules governing them and their effectiveness varies. Both cities are having discussions about strengthening their powers as part of their police reform reviews.
Some activists said if there were already a civilian police review board, the public might have clearer answers about the 2013 incident that led to the death of Darryl Mount Jr. Mount was running from police when he ran into a construction site and fell, according to the police account. His family contends police beat him. He was found in a coma from severe head injuries and died months later.
“We have to have a civilian review board, plain and simple,” said Lexis Figuereo, a local BLM activist.
Last week, City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said the council resolution could be changed at any time, as it was Monday, to clearly accept most of the task force recommendations. City officials also acknowledged sending in the report won’t be the end of the city’s response.
“Police reform has to go on after April 1,” Mayor Meg Kelly said last week. “We have to have a plan going forward, and that’s what we’re doing with this resolution.”
Saratoga Springs, like every community in the state that has its own law enforcement agency, is under an order by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to formally study whether its agency needs to make changes due to the nation’s history of systemic racism, and submit a plan by April 1.
Cuomo’s order was issued in response to Black Lives Matter protests over police-involved deaths of unarmed Black civilians across the country. A Capital Region group, All of Us, held several protests in Saratoga Springs, including a protest last July 30 that resulted in use of pepper balls and arrests after protesters refused orders to stop blocking streets. Some critics characterized those tactics as “militarized.”
In response, the proposed resolution would direct the police chief to review policies regarding response to First Amendment assemblies and instances when outside police agencies are called for assistance. (The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, state police and state park police were part of the July 30 response.)
The citizen-led task force, which began meeting in August and issued its recommendations in early March, said the Police Department needs to revise its use-of-force policy to minimize harm, adopt policies tailored to deal specifically with mental health calls, diversify the department’s personnel, and modify internal disciplinary review procedures. The council resolution supports those recommendations, noting some are already underway, though more may need to be done. It acknowledges “the prevalence of racism which has existed throughout the history of the United States.”