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Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group

September 14, 2020 - 3:15pm

Eight of the 20 "resident" members of the City Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group are diverse Batavians who say they desire to build a bridge between citizens and law enforcement that will lead to a safe and healthy community for all.

“Obviously, there’s a problem going on with police in America so I want to be a part of the solution, starting with that, if I can be,” said Brandon Armstrong, owner of Royal’s Barber Shop at 56 Harvester Ave. “And other than that, I pretty much want to help out in the community to make sure they’re (police) doing their part and to make sure the community is safe.”

Armstrong, one of three members of Just Kings Social Club, a local organization formed to foster equality and racial justice, also brought up the issue of respect.

“I want to make sure we’re being treated properly and we’re not living as if we’re in a prison or living in fear in our own hometown,” he offered. “I just want to be a little more comfortable.”

Francis Marchese, a semi-retired certified public accountant, said he is eager to see what comes out of the group discussions. The first meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at City Centre Council Chambers.

“I have lived in Batavia all my life and I feel that I will be able to help format a better condition for the City of Batavia and for the people who live here – that my voice may be heard,” he said. “I want to listen to what the group has to say … a group made up of people of different nationalities and to see what their consensus is and to see what they really want to accomplish.”

Marchese acknowledged “a lot of injustice in cities … but I also feel that no matter what the people department does, (the perception is that) they’re in the wrong – and that’s not right either.”

Victor Thomas, an employee of Western New York Concrete and Just Kings member, said he wants to be involved in “something that could help my community” and is pleased that the committee includes several citizens and not just law enforcement or government and civic officials.

“It’s a great place to start,” he said. “I hope to get a better understanding of how police officers view something and to bring issues to them that they may or may not be aware of. It’s definitely a challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”

For Raelene Christian, a retired NYS employee, the advisory group could be a way to restore community policing the way that her mother, City Council member Rose Mary Christian, remembers it.

“I believe that our police in our nation are being vilified, but the vast majority are good, hard-working people who just want to do their jobs … to serve and protect. Of course, there are bad officers, so I’m not saying there isn’t room for community policing,” she said. “In the old days, my mother knew all of the police officers. So, how do we get back there? Today, there is a lot of mistrust.”

Bill Hayes, owner Turnbull Heating & Air and active community member, said serving on the advisory group is a way that he can “give back to the county and city that have been very good to me” over the past 30 years.

“When I was in the service, there was no black, white, Hispanic – everybody mattered and we need to believe that in order to stand by it,” he said. “There are three stories to be told, and the third one is what are you going to do about it?”

He said that he is there for people to lean on, if necessary, and to hear others’ viewpoints.

“Hopefully, I can help. If not, I’ll leave the board,” he said. “I didn’t sign up to just be on another committee.”

Establishing a rapport with the police is vital to Gregory Munroe II, a Pioneer Credit Recovery employee and Just Kings representative.

“I am looking to learn how Batavia works and if something terrible (police action leading to tragedy) ever happened in Batavia -- and I sure hope it never does -- to make sure there is accountability,” he said. “I want see Batavia stay as safe as it is and even safer. It’s important to build the connection between police and the community.”

On having three Just Kings members in the group, he said the “city has embraced our group for the most part … and we’re heading in the right direction.”

Michael Henry, lifelong Batavian who works at the DePaul residence in Warsaw, said support and accountability go hand in hand.

“I want to know that the police are doing the best that they are capable of and have what they need to do their best, and also to make sure there is a measure of accountability,” he said.

The Batavian was unable to reach Bill Blackshear, who like Henry was added to the group earlier today.

Blackshear has spoken in favor of increased dialogue among different racial groups and law enforcement in the past, including a 2017 plea to City Council to act to bring citizens together “for a better communication and a better understanding of each other.”

September 14, 2020 - 10:20am

The City of Batavia Police Department today announced the addition of two people in the “resident” category of its Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group, increasing the total number to 20.

Michael Henry and Bill Blackshear have been added to the committee, and will join residents Raelene Christian, Bill Hayes, Francis Marchese and Gregory Munroe II.

Others who have been selected are as follows:

Police Chief Shawn Heubusch, Assistant Chief Chris Camp and Batavia Police Benevolent Association President Matt Wojtaszczyk;

Public Defender Jerry Ader and First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell;

Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski, City Council Member Kathleen Briggs and City Attorney George Van Nest;

Batavia City School Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr., YWCA Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper, Batavia Housing Authority Director Nathan Varland;

Business owner Brandon Armstrong, Just Kings representative Victor Thomas and Rev. Martin Macdonald, City Church pastor.

Jay Gsell and Erik Fix have been appointed as facilitators/moderators.

The group has been formed in compliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203 on police reform.

It is charged with reviewing police policies and procedures, and adopting a plan that addresses, per the mandate, “the particular needs of the communities served by such police agency and promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.”

The advisory group’s first meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 at the City Centre Council Chambers. All COVID-19 protocols will be in effect.

The governor’s executive order stipulates that municipalities must adopt a plan and submit it to the state by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.

September 11, 2020 - 5:36pm

The roster of an 18-member City of Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group is complete and the task of formulating a plan to coincide with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203 on police reform will begin in a couple weeks.

The Batavia Police Department today issued a press release indicating that the selection process has been finalized, and that the first meeting of the committee will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the City Centre Council Chambers.

The meeting is open to the public, with all COVID-19 protocols in effect, Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski said.

Per the governor’s Executive Order, “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” municipal police departments must adopt a plan by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.

Members of the advisory group are as follows:

  • Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski;
  • Police Chief Shawn Heubusch;
  • Assistant Police Chief Chris Camp;
  • City Attorney George Van Nest;
  • City Council Member Kathleen Briggs;
  • Just Kings representative Victor Thomas;
  • Citizen representatives Raelene Christian, Bill Hayes, Francis Marchese, Gregory Munroe II;
  • Batavia Housing Authority Director Nathan Varland;
  • YWCA Executive Director Millie Tomidy;
  • First District Attorney Kevin Finnell;
  • Public Defender Jerry Ader;
  • Batavia Police Benevolent Association President Matt Wojtaszczyk;
  • Batavia City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr.;
  • Business leader Brandon Armstrong;
  • Rev. Martin Macdonald, City Church.

The press release notes that “other industry experts have been invited to attend the meetings and participate to assist the group in developing the plan.”

They are the Genesee County Department of Social Services, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Genesee County Mental Health Services, Lake Plains Community Care, RESTORE Sexual Assault Services, City of Batavia Youth Center and Genesee County Sheriff’s Office 9-1-1 Center.

Jay Gsell and Erik Fix have been appointed as facilitators/moderators.

“We look forward to positive dialogue that will bring this community closer together and foster positive relationships between those we serve and the stakeholders in the community,” Heubusch said.

Cuomo’s Executive Order 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 nonprofit and faith-based community groups, local office of the district attorney, local public defender and local elected officials.”

Tabelski said the stakeholder group will meet on a regular basis to help identify recommendations for more effective strategies, policies, and procedures to better serve all residents within the City of Batavia.

The Sept. 24 meeting agenda includes a review of the Executive Order, presentation by the Batavia Police Department focusing on the evolution of policing, current operations and its policy manual, and a discussion of the police agency’s Policy 300 -- Use of Force.

The three other Genesee County police agencies affected by the Executive Order are at various stages.

Genesee County Sheriff’s Department

Sheriff William Sheron and Manager Matt Landers said the county will be ready to move forward once the renewal of the department’s New York State accreditation is finalized. A review of the sheriff’s office accreditation status is set for the end of the week.

Sheron said that having accreditation status means that “some of the requirements in the governor’s order have already been met.”

“We have a sincere interest in getting public input and involvement,” Sheron said, pointing out the high level of cooperation among county agencies. “We all adhere to the same standards of excellence.”

Landers said that he will be meeting with Sheron and Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein in the near future to put together a plan, following the governor’s guidelines.

“We are ready to move forward,” he said. “We have been waiting until the sheriff’s office goes through the accreditation process.”

Le Roy Police Department

Village of Le Roy Police Chief Chris Hayward said the subject will be discussed at the next Village Board meeting on Sept. 16.

He said the small size of the community could present a challenge as far as filling all of the “slots” outlined in the Executive Order.

“What he is asking us to do is to draft a plan that makes the best sense for our community – it’s a little bit difficult to do that when you may have to bring people in from outside of the community to participate in the process, who may or may not have a lot of knowledge of what goes on in Le Roy,” he explained.

Still, Hayward said his goal is to have a plan in place before he retires on Jan. 8, ending 36 years of service – including the past 18 as police chief.

Corfu Police Department

Village of Corfu Mayor Thomas Sargent said he plans to discuss the Executive Order with the village board in the near future.

August 10, 2020 - 11:53pm

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.

Previous story: City Council agenda includes resolution to create Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group

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