Police-Reform Plan In Albany, Makes Deadline




Plan In Albany,

Makes Deadline

Now, Oneonta Council Will

Create Action Plan By June 1

Interim Police Chief Chris Witzenburg addresses last night’s Zoom meeting on the City of Oneonta’s Police Department Reform & Reinvention plan. Others are, top row from left, Council members Mark Drnek, Luke Murphy, Scott Harrington and Mark Davies; second row, Council members David Rissberger and John Rafter, and Mayor Herzig; third row, Council members Len Carson and Kayti Lipari Shue, and citizen David Dreier.  Bottom row is citizen Steve Londner.

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Bill Shue, the former Sixth Ward alderman, expressed concern about removing “no-knock” warrants from the Oneonta Police Department’s tool kit, as suggested in the city’s Police Department Reform & Reinvention plan, approved unanimously last night by Common Council.

The plan was emailed to the Governor’s Office four hours before the midnight, April 1, deadline, Mayor Gary Herzig said today.

Shue recalled a “major drug bust” in 2000 on Fonda Avenue, when police, using a “no knock” warrant, discovered assault rifles and automatic weapons, “a stash (of drugs) that could probably kill hundreds of people.”

Officers told him after the fact that, if not for the “no-knock” warrant, pre-approved by a judge as required, “there probably would be a dead cop.”

While the plan would limit the warrants to “violent crimes,” Shue said officers, as in the Fonda Avenue case, can’t predict in advance what’s going to happen when a warrant is served.

Bridget Stith, a Huntington Library program assistant who served on Subcommittee #2 of the city’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) exploring “reform and reinvention” for the OPD, noted four OPD officers had undergone “warrior-style training” last year.

She said that training “often heightens fear and trauma,” but that subcommittee’s recommendation was watered down to simply “unconscious bias training” in the recommendations approved last night.

Stith expressed fears “we squandered our opportunity for change, and squandered our opportunity to address Oneonta’s history of systematic racism.”

Shue and Stith bookended comments by five citizens during the public-comment section of last night’s meeting, and Herzig said today they are examples of decisions Common Council will have to make by a self-imposed deadline of June 1.  The other speakers were Shannon McHugh, city Commission on Human Rights chair; Steve Londner, active in local causes, and David Dreier, who served on a subcommittee.

“Now comes implementation,” the mayor said today.

It will be led by a four Council-member committee: the two mayoral candidates, Len Carson and Mark Drnek; Dave Rissberger, who chairs the Council’s planning committee, and Luke Murphy, the Council member who served (as vice chairman) on the CAB committee that developed the plan.

The committee will seek to ensure the CAB plan isn’t in conflict “with state laws, Civil Service regulations, collective bargaining agreements,” Herzig said. “There  have to be discussions with the county district attorney and city prosecutor.”

That would speak to concerns like Shue’s about “no-knock” warrants.

On Stith’s concern, Herzig said “military training” is called “tactical training” by police.  It involved studying combat training, but also how to keep cool in stressful or dangerous situations.

The mayor said while he believes Common Council could direct the police chief not to implement specific training regimens, he would prefer that the Council generally set policies, but allow the department heads to determine how to implement them.

After George Floyd’s death, Governor Cuomo on June 11, 2020, ordered all 320 local governments in the state with their own police departments to review policies and procedures, and submit a community-based plan to Albany by April 1.

The two other local governed involved were the Village of Cooperstown and county government, which oversees the sheriff’s department.  Their plans had already been submitted.

Council member Carson said he asked that the word “draft” be inserted into the resolution sent to the governor to emphasize there is work ahead to prepare the plan for implementation.

He said he expects the committee to meet at least weekly between now and June 1, possibly on Tuesdays.  The meetings will be open to the public, and there will be a public hearing prior to a final vote.

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