Some of the Niskayuna police reform plan recommendations are being implemented even as the town has yet to approve the plan. Other recommendations, though, will require more to get underway, one board member said.
“What we need to really recognize is more funding will be needed for policing because we can get grants for equipment, body cameras, things like that but it’s the ongoing expense for staffing and the ongoing expense for the keeping of all the data and looking at all the data,” said board member Bill McPartlon. “That’s really where it gets to be expensive.”
The plan to improve policing was discussed Friday morning during a virtual meeting of the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said the board will plan to meet at 7 p.m. March 30 to approve the plan and send it to the state.
One of the biggest costs will come from the administration of body cameras for officers.
“We’ve contacted a few companies and some of the companies are going to be sending us sample body cams and we have got quotes,” Police Chief Frances Wall said. “I think body cams are going to be a significant cost.”
Ismat Alam said the town’s new grant writer has been charged with finding grants to cover the costs of buying cameras.
However, the cost doesn’t stop there, Wall said, noting there will need to be funds set aside for maintenance of the cameras and storage of data.
Board member Denise Murphy McGraw also asked whether Wall has looked into cameras that read license plates. Wall said she would do more research on that technology.
Another large cost will come from staffing needs, which include possibly hiring another officer for the position of community policing officer.
I have kind of figured out a plan and I think that we can have a community officer sooner than later, but I’m going to kind of change the department a little bit,” Wall said. “I’m thinking of making an admin sergeant that serves as a community officer. It’s going to be a little creative staffing, what I’m planning on doing.”
She said it’s something she will need to discuss with the comptroller.
Murphy McGraw asked if the community policing officer would coordinate events like Coffee with a Cop.
“Far more inclusive than that,” Wall said, noting the officer would meet with groups like religious organizations.
Board member John Della Ratta raised concerns about whether having someone who has worked in the Police Department for a while should be the community policing officer.
“I think the police officer that’s doing this community position it’s got to be different, he’s got to be the person that we want policing to become,” he said. “I’m not talking about our Police Department specifically, this is very broad. We don’t want to put the same tired old guy with the same tired old biases into this new spot walking around and dealing with the community and our schools and the like.”
However, Board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith said she wanted to rely on Wall’s expertise in placing someone in the community policing position.
“I also think it’s important to have somebody the community knows,” she said.
Murphy McGraw also asked whether Wall thought there was enough being done at the moment for mental and behavioral health and whether a social worker should be something the department looks at using as well to respond to mental or behavioral health calls.
“We’ll look into, as far as bringing a social worker in,” Wall said. “I think the start, as far as working with Northern Rivers is a huge step for us. They’ve been very responsive, as far as coming to calls with us. It’s a great partnership for our department.”
The town approved the contract with the Northern Rivers Mobile Crisis unit during its board meeting Tuesday.
Wall said mental health calls have gone up but that she wanted to see how things work with Northern Rivers and talk about where to go next in six months or a year.
An implementation plan committee will be established to determine how to effectively enact the recommendations in the plan. There are also plans to create a civilian review board.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said the board will look to meet 7 p.m. March 30 to approve the plan and send it to the state.