Potsdam approves police reform plan

A Potsdam police vehicle drives by Black Lives Matter ralliers in summer 2020 in front of the Potsdam Post Office, 21 Elm St. Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — Three days before the state’s deadline for submitting police reform plans, Potsdam has joined municipalities across the north country in approving its response to Executive Order 203.

Last year, village Mayor Reinhold J. Tischler, Administrator Gregory L. Thompson and Police Chief Mark R. Murray invited about 15 people to form a Police Reform Committee, which first convened in October. The first committee meeting was closed to the public, and the committee itself was restructured during a private meeting in January after one of the group’s few members of color resigned.

Jennifer M. Baxtron, the Black leader of Potsdam’s Black Lives Matter group, announced in December she was stepping down from the committee, expressing frustration that systemic racism and its Potsdam impacts were not seriously being discussed.

With village trustees Alexandra M. Jacobs-Wilke and Maggie M. McKenna heading the process as of January, the committee subsequently circulated a survey about Potsdam policing, hosted two public comment sessions and met publicly for a final meeting last week. The committee’s 37-page report was last updated Friday and is viewable on the news page of the village website, vi.potsdam.ny.us.

Under Executive Order 203, called the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, policy evaluations are expected to be based on 10 police reform laws as part of the state’s “Say Their Name” reform agenda laid out by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after the May 25 killing of George Floyd. The 46-year-old Black man was killed by a white and now former police officer charged with second-degree murder in Minneapolis.

The order mandates law enforcement agencies and overseeing municipalities develop reform plans by April 1, to be eligible for funding from the state’s 2021-22 budget.

Meetings of the committee were not subject to state Open Meetings Law, which applies to legislatively formed public bodies and does not necessarily govern executive orders. But the order does require collaboration with the public through an “open process on policing strategies and tools.”

Plans must address the law enforcement agency’s use of force, crowd management, community policing, implicit bias awareness and de-escalation training, restorative justice practices, community outreach, a transparent citizen complaint procedure and other issues specific to each community.

After thanking one another and the community members who have participated in the process, the village board on Monday evening unanimously voted to pass a resolution approving its plan during a special meeting streamed on Facebook.

The document consists of more than 40 recommendations, a nine-page survey, an overview of survey results and several pages of committee member bios.

Village officials have outlined intentions to form a standing Citizens Advisory Committee that will meet regularly and continue to brief the village board moving forward.

“This is the start of a journey,” Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said. “There’s more work to be done.”

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(1) comment

JohnMcElroy

USA being told it is ok to arrest people of color but you must do it gently. In a nut shell that is the only reason for "police reform." God help America.

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