Potsdam protestors taking a break

Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered Jan. 10 in front of the Potsdam Post Office. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

POTSDAM — The village’s Police Reform Committee is moving to restructure and refocus on its mission following several resignations over the last few weeks.

On Wednesday, the committee, which consists of about a dozen people from the village community representing a variety of constituencies such as faith groups and educational institutions, met privately via Zoom where it more or less started from scratch to rethink the process moving forward.

Alexandra Jacobs-Wilke and Maggie McKenna, both village trustees, will now co-chair the group. Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said the first goal is to realign their mission toward meeting the charge on the committee in accordance with the executive order issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last summer that required all police departments in the state to conduct such a review.

“Really today, just given everything that’s happened over the last few weeks, this was just a chance for us to really check back in, make sure that everyone is okay and on board with this new structure,” Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said.

The committee also decided to break up into three sub-groups to focus on different aspects of crafting what will eventually turn into a set of recommendations sent to the village Board of Trustees for review. These include groups focused on data and policy, operations and community involvement.

This meeting was not conducted publicly as others have been done in the past. Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said the sub-groups will likely meet privately moving forward, but the committee as a whole will open up some sessions to the public.

“We absolutely plan on having public sessions going forward, having public input,” Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said.

Beginning in October, the group met several times in public sessions, eventually switching to Zoom meetings as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic worsened locally.

During several moments, those meetings grew heated.

Last month following several exchanges in one meeting, both John Youngblood and Jennifer Baxtron, the group’s two only black members, resigned out of frustration that they claimed the group wasn’t seriously discussing and addressing racism’s effects on policing in Potsdam.

A third member, Scott Schulte, who also later resigned, apparently prompting the group’s meeting last week to be canceled.

Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said Mr. Youngblood, a SUNY Potsdam professor, participated in Wednesday’s meeting, leading the group in a critical thinking discussion.

The Board of Trustees must approve and send a copy of the group’s recommendations to the state before April 1, or face potential cuts to state aid.

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