CLAYTON — The village Board of Trustees submitted its police reform plan during the latest meeting, wrapping up about six months of work. But the plan is nearly word-for-word identical to that of Alexandria Bay.
After months of protests against police brutality across the country, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order in June of last year requiring any New York state municipality with a police force to draft a police reform and reinvention plan by April 1, or lose access to state funding.
The Clayton Police Reform and Reinvention Plan, which is about four pages long, establishes the Clayton Police Department’s mission statement and guiding principles, but does not call for many adjustments to existing policies.
The plan is nearly word-for-word identical to another reform plan agreed to last month by Alexandria Bay. Clayton Mayor Norma J. Zimmer said she was very displeased to learn that the Clayton plan, written by Clayton Chief of Police Kevin J. Patenaude, had been used in Alexandria Bay as well.
“I think, if they were going to do that, they should have asked the board before they sent it down,” she said. “We wrote it for Clayton, we didn’t write it for Alexandria Bay.”
Mr. Patenaude said there are a number of good reasons why the Clayton and Alexandria Bay police reform plans match so closely.
“One of them would be that we deal with essentially the same type of clientele: tourists,” he said.
Both Alexandria Bay and Clayton are seen primarily as vacation destinations with hotels and waterfront attractions that draw in visitors during the summer months. Both feature a number of hotels, bars, restaurants and event venues within their borders, and both villages see a significant number of seasonal residents move in every summer.
Mr. Patenaude also mentioned that Joshua M. David, the officer in charge of Alexandria Bay and the person responsible for its reform plan, is the second-in-command in the Clayton department. Mr. Patenaude said he’s training Mr. David to take on the position of Clayton police chief once he retires. The two worked closely on the reform plan.
“(Mr. David) was more than welcome to take my plan or any part of my plan and use it,” he said. “I mean, I put it out there on the website for any other police department to look at, too.”
Mr. David said he felt the same way and had worked closely with Mr. Patenaude to develop the Alexandria Bay plan alongside the Clayton plan.
“He has a wealth of knowledge and was gracious enough to work with me,” he said. “Because the villages are so similar, it just made sense that the plans would match up.”
Mr. Patenaude said he’s seen other towns and villages in Jefferson County collaborate closely with one another and the county sheriff’s office as well, so sharing reform plans is nothing new.
Mr. Patenaude said the village police department faced few issues before the governor’s order and did not require change to come into line with modern police practices.
He said many other law enforcement agencies have said the Clayton Police Department is a paragon of community policing, the philosophy that law enforcement should develop meaningful, long-lasting relationship with the community they serve and engage actively in problem solving within the community.
The police reform plan defines the Clayton Police Department as “community policing at it’s finest.”
Mr. Patenaude said the Clayton Police Department takes a subtle approach to policing, largely because the village is a tourist town. He said that in a community that relies mainly on vacationers in the summers, the police department can’t be harsh and crack down on every minor infraction.
“If there’s a problem, we don’t come in with guns blazing and sirens wailing,” he said. “We come in, we take care of the issue and we disappear.”
The Clayton police force is relatively small, comprised of three full-time and two part-time officers. Many of the department’s part-time officers work in other departments nearby as well, including Mr. David.
According to the department’s mission statement, newly developed for the reform and reinvention plan, the job of Clayton police officers is to preserve the rights of all citizens and reduce fear in the community by preventing crime and protecting people, property and public order.
According to the reform plan documents, a core principle of the department is respect. Officers are to respect members of the public and must behave in a way that encourages the public to respect officers.
According to the reform plan, the Clayton Police Department does not intend to make any changes to the structure of the department and will make only one policy change by amending its use of force policies to be in line with current laws.
The village conducted a survey of residents, asking them to share their views on the village police department. The Clayton police survey, unlike many others conducted in the region, had a decent turnout of more than 100 respondents, although not every respondent answered every question.
According to that survey, which was available online between September 2020 and January of this year, a majority of village residents are satisfied with the performance of the village police department. A majority, 60% of respondents, said they believe the biggest crime issue facing Clayton is the manufacturing and sale of illegal drugs.
The next-largest issue was traffic issues and speeding in residential areas, with 49% of respondents saying they believe that’s a major issue in the community. Many people also said disorderly conduct, public intoxication and excessive noise are issues.