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Positive community perception, establishment of minority focus group highlight police chief's presentation

By Mike Pettinella

City of Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said he is encouraged by the results of a survey designed to gauge the community’s perception of his department and is looking forward to expanding the work of the Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group.

Speaking at Monday night’s City Council meeting, Heubusch shared highlights of the draft report generated as a result of seven meetings of the advisory group, which was formed last summer in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203 on community policing reform.

The draft of the plan, which ultimately will be submitted to the New York State Office of Management and Budget, will be available for public viewing and input on the City of Batavia’s website for about 30 days. Council is expected to consider the plan, including any updates, at its March 8 Business meeting.

Heubusch said he felt “very proud” about the response to the survey question, “When I seen an officer how do I feel?,” as the overwhelming majority indicated that seeing an officer made them feel safer and that they would be treated fairly.

He said the 14-question survey drew 828 responses, with 77 percent of the respondents stating that they lived in Batavia and 87 percent indicating that they were white. Fifty-eight percent were over the age of 45 and 56 percent were female.

The chief also said it was “very reassuring” that 81 percent of the respondents said that their opinion of the Batavia PD has not changed because of national events.

“Remember, when we started this it was right after all of the tumultuous activity that took place across the country,” Heubusch said.

He also pointed out that 80 percent said officers acted professionally/very professionally during an interaction, with 7 percent offering no opinion and 3 percent stating officers were unprofessional/very unprofessional.

“Eight respondents said their last interaction was due to an arrest and five of those respondents indicated the department was professional or very professional,” he added.

Concerning recommendations going forward, Heubusch said the top two answers to the question, “What should the Batavia PD do?” were to provide more training and resources for the officers on bias based policing and do more to address vehicle and pedestrian safety.

“Number two was to assign more resources to assist those with substance abuse issues, number three was to assign more resources to assist youth and number four was to engage more with the community,” he reported.

Heubusch said he is especially pleased with the fact that a focus group of minority residents has been established and will continue to meet on a regular basis.

“We had one meeting and it was extremely productive, and we are committed to continuing (open dialogue), he said, noting that several members of the minority community were part of the 28-member advisory group.

He said the committee learned about policies, procedures and training, including use of force, bias based policing, basic course for police, Article 35, body worn cameras and de-escalation training.

“With Article 35, once we placed someone under arrest, they can’t resist,” Heubusch said. “It was actually kind of an eye-opening moment for us. Several people in the group didn’t realize that when a police officer says you’re under arrest, that was it.”

Heubusch outlined other areas that the agency plans to begin or re-emphasize:

  • Trainings such as implicit bias and de-escalation, as well as mental health and crisis intervention.

“We plan to collaborate more with Genesee County Mental Health and there also is a larger discussion with other law enforcement agencies for some type of response service,” he said.

  • Community Engagement/Community Policing, including more foot and bicycle patrols, and establishing a community liaison service.
  • Transparency/data sharing, specifically posting Department of Criminal Justice reports on the city’s website and starting a Crime Watch program on social media to “get information out in a much smoother fashion than our current website.”
  • Accreditation, with the hope of initial accreditation later this year and then reaccreditation every three to five years.
  • Civil Service reform, with the goal of revamping a system that Heubusch said is antiquated.

“It doesn’t allow you to hire the best candidate at times, unfortunately,” he said, adding that there is a discussion across the state to reform the Civil Service hiring process. He added that the department is committed to hiring local candidates.

  • Special programs: specifically contracting with the Batavia City School District for a school resource officer; having a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer in schools; starting a citizens’ police academy and an officer wellness program.

Heubusch said it is a priority to continue to participate in National Night Out and as many other city and private outreach events as possible.

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