If you’re going to form a committee to build a plan that addresses community policing issues and encourages trust between residents and law enforcement, it has to include people of color – those who are speaking out for equality and racial justice.
That is the position stated by Batavia City Council members tonight as they approved the formation of the Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group as mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order No. 203.
“I think it’s very important to have diversity in the committee because that is the people, and some of the people just like everyone else in the community, who are being affected,” City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said following the board’s Conference and Business meetings. “So, every stakeholder from every diverse demographic that we can come up with, I’d like to see on that committee – so that everyone has a say, to a point.”
Jankowski said filling the committee with people of the same perspective is not the answer.
“If we end up one-siding it or lopsiding it, we’re not really going to solve the problem,” he said. “We need to have legitimate conversations from all the stakeholders – all the people that might or might not be involved – so we can get as much input as we can.”
As previously reported on The Batavian, the advisory group, per a memo from Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski, was set up to consist of 15 members – including the city manager, three police department representatives, three attorneys, one Council member, a faith-based leader, Batavia Housing Authority director, not-for-profit representative, Batavia City School District superintendent, business leader and two citizen representatives.
Prior to a vote, Council member Robert Bialkowski made a motion to amend the list to include four citizen representatives to ensure minority input. The amendment was accepted and the measure passed unanimously.
The advisory group came up at the outset of tonight’s proceedings when Batavia resident Sammy DiSalvo used the public comments segment to say he opposed the makeup of it.
After reading off the list of proposed committee members, DiSalvo said, “And finally you’re rounding out this 15-person committee with two citizens, which is atrocious.”
“I hope everybody remembers why this entire executive order was proposed by Cuomo in the first place. And if you’re only going to put two out of 15 positions as citizens to help discuss how police can better police citizens, then this is a moronic proposal put forward,” he said. “This was started because of police brutality nationwide against people of color. And there is also nothing in this resolution about including those disadvantaged groups in this conversation.”
DiSalvo suggested having just one police officer and one attorney – not three of each – and called for half of the group to be “citizens,” with at least two people of color.
“Make sure your citizens are represented and right now they are not,” he said.
Council member Rose Mary Christian said she disagreed “with most of the things that DiSalvo said, and I will not sit here and think that our police department has abused anyone. I will not defend, I will not defund, our police and, as a matter of fact, I stand behind them.”
She said she has a flag at her home with a blue line for the police and a red line for the fire department.
“Safety is number one to me, and I’ll be damned if somebody is going to tell me anything different,” she added.
Fellow Council member Robert Bialkowski offered that the City doesn’t have a lot of the problems that occur in larger cities, punctuating that with “it’s simple – don’t break the law.”
Wording in the governor's executive order does not specifically stipulate the actual members, but mentions 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.”
Tabelski said that she and Police Chief Shawn Heubusch used the information in the previous paragraph to analyze “the members listed to make up the group, and then applied it to local conditions here in Batavia to form the parameters of our local group.”
“Our intent was to have good representation from all sides and to comply with the executive order,” she said.
During a presentation to Council, City Attorney George Van Nest outlined eight recently enacted pieces of legislation, including an anti-chokehold act and providing medical attention to persons in custody act.
Heubusch, meanwhile, reported that his agency has achieved all but a couple of the dozen or so standards spelled out in the governor’s executive order, and cited statistics showing a downward trend in crime in the city over the past five years.
Tabelski said that persons seeking to serve on the committee should send a “letter of interest” via email to her at [email protected] or call 585-345-6300 by Sept. 1.
Regular meetings will be scheduled starting in September, followed by a draft presentation to Council in January, public comments in February, final version of the plan in March and submission to the state by April 1.
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