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Just Kings to submit Victor Thomas' name to serve on expanded Batavia Police Advisory Stakeholder Group

By Mike Pettinella

Just Kings, a newly formed organization dedicated to achieving equality and racial justice in Batavia and Genesee County, today said they plan to submit a letter to Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski to have a representative on the City’s Police Advisory Stakeholder Group.

“We have discussed this at length and have talked to Chief (Shawn) Heubusch about it, and would like to participate,” said Victor Thomas, adding that he has been selected by Just Kings’ 10-member board of directors for consideration by city leaders.

If chosen, the 36-year-old Thomas, a lifelong Batavian, would be one of six citizen members on the committee, which is being formed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203.

Just Kings was instrumental in conducting a peaceful March for Justice in downtown Batavia on June 7 and held a community Juneteenth celebration at the YWCA on June 20.

They are hosting a drive-through cookout, offering BBQ chicken or pulled pork dinners, this Saturday from noon until sold out at 25 Harvester Ave. The cost is $12.

Thomas said that he is encouraging people of color to submit a letter of interest to fill other slots on the advisory group.

One person of color already appointed to the group is Batavia City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr.

"Well, I think I do add some diversity to the group. I'm a Latino, bilingual ... I'm not what the perception would be, another Caucasian male," Soler said. "So I think I will bring some of that diversity, to the credit of the police chief to make sure that I'm on this group -- representing the school district and our kids of color."

Soler said that growing up as a Latino male in the City of Rochester, he carries "some experiences with law enforcement that I've had that hopefully can help the group do its work better."

He shared that people of color -- biracial, Asian, African-American and Latino -- comprise about 25 percent of the student population in the Batavia City School District.

The executive order, “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” stipulates that police departments must adopt a plan by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.

It includes wording that stakeholders should include “but not (be) limited to membership and leadership of the local police force, members of the community with emphasis in areas with high numbers of police and community interactions, interested non-profit and faith-based community groups, local office of the district attorney, local public defender and local elected officials.”

Toward that end, Tabelski issued a press release about an hour ago declaring that the City of Batavia will add four additional community members, increasing the number of residents from two that were on the original list of stakeholders to six.

Tabelski said the city will strive to ensure proper representation for all.

Per the press release, “The advisory group will open dialogue and add value to the relationships between City government employees, the police department and community residents,” Tabelski said. “As we move forward, the stakeholder meetings will be open for the public to attend, while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.”

Heubusch, in the release, said he is looking forward to starting the process and engaging with citizens in the community.

“The City Police Department is comprised of men and women who take the job of protecting and serving our community very seriously,” he said. “We all look forward to working with the stakeholder group to improve our already robust service and training.

“All individuals should be held to the same standard. No one is above the law; whether civilian, law enforcement or government official and those that break the law should be held accountable.”

With this expansion, the Police Advisory Stakeholder Group will now consist of 19 members, including:

  • City Manager;
  • Police Chief;
  • Assistant Police Chief;
  • City Attorney;
  • One City Council member;
  • Six citizen representatives;
  • Batavia Housing Authority Director;
  • Director of a not-for-profit that serves human interests (e.g. YWCA);
  • District Attorney representative;
  • Public Defender representative;
  • Batavia Police Benevolent Association representative;
  • Batavia City School District Superintendent;
  • Community religious leader;
  • Business leader representative.

Furthermore, Tabelski said the stakeholder group will help identify recommendations for more effective strategies, policies, and procedures to better serve all residents within the City of Batavia. This plan will be developed over the fall and winter, and must be adopted by the City of Batavia by April 1 per Executive Order No. 203.

Citizens interested in being a member of the Police Advisory Stakeholder Group should send their name, phone number, address and email address to the office of the Interim City Manager, Rachael Tabelski. Address: City of Batavia, One Batavia City Centre, Batavia, NY 14020 or via email:  [email protected].

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