Report ready for council but members of police stakeholder group plan to keep going
Members of Batavia Police Advisory Collaboration Stakeholder Group are ready to keep the momentum going.
Their Gov. Andrew Cuomo-assigned task completed, members last night said they felt like some good things had been accomplished for the community and they want to keep going, if not in the group's current form, at least in focus groups and through its participation in police-related committees.
"I don't think the conversation ends here," said Victor Thomas, a member of the group and a member of the Just Kings Social Club. "Like I said earlier, with the chief and assistant chief, these are both people that want to have this conversation with or without this group. They went above and beyond, like I said, to form other groups and actually hear the community's voice. So I don't think this is something that's just going to stop here because Cuomo said we had to do this. We actually have a police chief and assistant9 chief that care about their community. So that's huge."
Chief Shawn Heubush said there is no plan for the conversation to stop.
"One of the things that we talked about is actually inviting the community to our policing community policing meeting because it's usually an internal-facing meeting where we try to come up with ways to integrate ourselves into the community," Heubusch said. "We realized, as Detective (Matthew) Wojtaszek had mentioned that we don't have any citizens on this committee. Why don't we have a citizen or two on this committee to help us in getting into the areas that we need to get into and focusing on those areas? So that would be something that I would see to try to keep this conversation going, inviting more people to talk to those types of functions.
"I really look forward to a citizens' police academy. I certainly hope we can make that happen because I think that is a perfect opportunity. You know, just looking at other communities that have done it, a perfect opportunity for us to really serve the public a lot better and have that educational piece that I think we need so, so very badly with our community, the back and forth conversation as well. And the focus group, as Victor mentioned, we're going to keep going with that. I think that's extremely important."
Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski said she expects the city to make community and police relations part of its regular focus in the future, perhaps adding a review process as part of the budget process.
"It is up to myself and the chief to follow up with counsel on an annual basis to see how this is going and how it's evolved," Tabelski said. "The plan doesn't get finished and put on the shelf, is what I'm trying to say. I think both the chief and I are committed to making sure that we are reviewing this and trying to make this into our strategic priorities that come forward to counsel every single year at budget time as well."
The stakeholder's group was charged, by executive order, by reviewing all relevant police policies and procedures and make recommendations for changes. There were no recommended changes in the area of things like arrest procedures and use of force but committee members expressed a strong interest in improving mental health intervention as well as community-police relationships.
The written plan produced by the committee will be presented to the City Council on Jan. 25 and become available for public review at that time. There will be a public comment period and the council will be asked to approve it and send it to the governor's office, to comply with the executive order, on March 8.
Near the top of the meeting, Pastor Marty Macdonald of City Church started the discussion about how far the city has come in the area of community and police relations, especially in regards to people of color.
"Ten years ago, this meeting would have never happened," Macdonald said. "Not with the people that we have on (the committee). I am so grateful for Victor being in this group. Victor, what would you have thought five years ago if you were to be invited to this?
"I'm on the CJAC (Criminal Justice Advisory Council) committee, too," he added. "They approved Greg Monroe to be a part of the CJAC. To me, this is the essence of what this whole thing is about, that to a degree, our community has been, I'm not certain that it's been deliberate, but it's just been there's been no attention to it and we have put attention to it now. And I think we've moved in an incredibly positive way."
Victor Thomas said he was grateful to see progress made.
"I applaud the chief because, from the beginning, before the march, before any of this came down, he was there," Thomas said. "He was willing to hear concerns. He was there the day of the march and he was willing to hear his community's cry. I think that showed even more, like you saying, like this conversation needs to happen even without the governor. Yeah, the governor passed (this order) down, but we took that and we created another focus group to look deeper in once we didn't get the results that we wanted from a survey.
"It shows what's manifesting," he added. "It shows the growth in Batavia, and I'm just happy to be a part of it. I'm happy to have my thoughts and Greg's thoughts and other minority thoughts actually taken it into consideration and actually put down in this plan. Like my friend was saying in the beginning, yeah, it should stand for everybody, but I'm glad that the focus remained where the focus needed to be. And I'm happy to be a part of that. And I'm happy to continue the focus group."