City of Syracuse Addresses Stakeholder and Protest Group Demands on Police Reform


The following information provided by the city of Syracuse addressing demands listed by “People’s Agenda for Police Reform”

Syracuse, N.Y. – The City of Syracuse today addressed demands for police reform made by a coalition of stakeholders and protest groups. The response to the “People’s Agenda for Police Reform” also included a timeline to address the issues and referenced actions included in the Mayor’s June 19 Syracuse Police Reform Agenda Executive Order.

“For the past two and a half years, enhancing police accountability and improving police-community relations has been an urgent priority for my administration. We have engaged in an open and inclusive way at every stage of our work, and we are doing so again,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “Working with Chief Buckner, we’ve outlined a platform for accountability to the community and a clear foundation for continued progress.”

The response includes actions that have already been completed, as well as others to be addressed in as little as 30 days or over the course of the next six months. The City’s response can be read here. A summary of some of the actions taken under the leadership of Mayor Walsh and Chief Buckner can be viewed online.

In two cases, the Citizen Review Board (CRB) and School Resource Officers (SRO), the Administration indicated it must defer those demands to the appropriate government entity. The CRB was established and is overseen by the Syracuse Common Council. SROs are under the jurisdiction of the Syracuse City School District.

Response to The People’s Agenda for Police Reform

July 16, 2020

Since taking office two and a half years ago, Mayor Walsh has made enhancing police accountability and improving police-community relations in the City of Syracuse an urgent priority. From including community stakeholders in the selection of a new police chief to seeking input on the body worn camera policy to conducting a public forum on frustrations with use of force, Mayor Walsh and Chief Buckner have offered a more inclusive and open process to police reform.

Positive progress has been made but much more needs to happen.  And faster than before. The Walsh Administration welcomes this challenge.

A coalition of organizations has advanced the People’s Agenda for Police Reform. It comprises nine demands of the City of Syracuse regarding changes to policing in our community.  Representatives of the People’s Agenda organizations presented their demands to Mayor Walsh, Chief Buckner and city leaders on July 2, 2020 in a live streamed public meeting. Mayor Walsh committed to provide a timeline in two weeks on how the City would address the demands.

The following document provides timeframes for action and relevant background and context on each of the demands. It references numbered actions in the Mayor’s June 19 Executive Order on Syracuse Police Reform.  It also presents the City’s position at this time on each of these demands. It is a new platform for accountability to the community and a foundation for continued progress.

Legislate and Implement the Syracuse Right to Know Act

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #1), the Administration committed to: Review, revise and amend the policies and procedures of the Syracuse Police Department (SPD) to ensure the principles embodied in the New York City Right to Know Act are incorporated into the department’s policies and procedures, including but not limited to self-identification to citizens, provision of written identification to citizens, obtaining consent to searches, recording consent and making the record of the consent available to the subject of the search. This will be done in conjunction with legislative action by the Syracuse Common Council, which will seek to codify the “Right to Know” principles related to the reporting of investigative encounters.

The Executive Order authorizes the Syracuse Police Department to implement the administrative functions of Right to Know. Effective and timely implementation will require officer training on new policies and procedures and the completed acquisition of body worn cameras for all uniformed officers to record applicable consent searches. Full implementation may also be impacted by Council legislation.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. Administrative implementation will be completed by January 15, 2021.
▶ 2. The Administration defers to the Syracuse Common Council on the timeline for legislative action.

Taking additional action to revamp SPD’s new use of force policy as detailed by SPAARC’s analysis and provided to the administration in July 2019

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #2), the Administration committed to: Revise SPD’s 2019 use of force policy to ensure that it is compliant with recent changes in New York State law, and fully consider any policy changes requested by the Syracuse community.

The Syracuse Police Department is again reviewing the Syracuse Police Accountability and Reform Coalition (SPAARC) analysis for proposed modifications to its Use of Force Policy. In addition to the SPAARC analysis, other references will include but are not limited to: Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order  specific to S.6670-B (Benjamin)  “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act” which establishes criminal penalties for use of chokeholds; NYS Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) pending guidelines, including any that will impact SPD’s current NYS DCJS certification; and SPD’s current process to obtain national certification from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA)

TIMELINE

▶ 1. The Syracuse Police Department Use of Force Policy will be updated by October 15, 2020.

Enhance the SPD body camera policy to require officers to turn cameras on at the beginning of their shift, for data and footage from body cameras to be FOILable and not highly redacted, and prohibit officers from reviewing body camera footage when writing their reports, among other needed changes

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND WITH CLARIFICATIONS.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #3), the Administration committed to: SPD will revise its current body worn camera policy to ensure that officers record the entirety of their presence on the scene of a police encounter.

Regarding the issue of when body-worn-cameras (BWC) are on and recording, they are powered on at the beginning of the officer’s shift, but they do not continuously record.  Recording for an entire shift, in one continuous stream, does not allow for the integration of information from the E-911 center to the video.  The integration of E-911 information is the mechanism that allows the Department to label, store, and retrieve footage from a particular incident or call.  This process, made possible with E-911 integration, is crucial to the management of the BWC evidence and the supervision of officers.

Administratively, the labeling of each individual clip of evidence allows for the appropriate retention period to be set so the evidence is not erroneously purged from our system.  With respect to officer supervision, the Department – in its most recent contract with Axon – requested the addition of Axon’s “Performance” program.  The “Performance” program, when used in conjunction with the E-911 integration, allows the Department to audit an officer’s compliance with the recording requirements of the Department policy.  Moreover, the “Performance” program randomly selects officer video clips to be reviewed by his/her direct supervisor.  Both programs increase accountability and provide for increased officer performance.  Without the E-911 integration, which is accomplished through the appropriate management of an officer’s ability to turn on and off the recording function, the Department will lose significant administrative oversight.

BWC footage is available under a FOIL request to the Office of Corporation Counsel, however, the City does not release records including BWC footage if the record is part of an active investigation.  The current practice of redaction mirrors the redaction process utilized for paper documents, both of which are governed by Article 6 of the Public Officers Law (§§ 91-99).  The City recognizes the important balance of protecting privacy rights with the public’s right to access government records and evaluates each request on a case-by-case basis.  The City adopted guidelines for BWC redaction in April 2019.  The guidelines call for redaction, by blurring faces/images or muting sound in whole or part, when the footage captures the following: medical treatment or facilities; interior of private residences; restrooms; SPD computer screens; officer field notes; citizens’ forms of identification (i.e. driver’s license); severe injuries and fatalities; law enforcement investigative techniques that should remain confidential; scenes of sexual assaults, domestic violence or stalking; faces and voices of crime victims, witnesses, informants and minors; and conversations between police officers that fall under the inter-agency communications exception in the FOIL statute.

The Department recognizes that a police officer’s report is the official record of a call for service and needs to be as accurate as possible. The Syracuse Police Department, in both policy and training, has emphasized that the video captured on a BWC is not a replacement for an officer’s independent recollection of the event.  Recognizing this, as a matter of practice, when an officer is involved in a shooting, the Department does not show the officer his/her BWC footage until after they have provided a written statement. In other instances, officers are allowed to review BWC footage prior to completing a report. This practice will be reviewed.

In accordance with Mayor Walsh’s Executive Order (Action #4), the Administration committed to: SPD will complete the department’s efforts to obtain additional body worn cameras so that all uniformed officers assigned to patrol or who otherwise respond to citizen calls will be equipped with cameras.

On Monday July 13, 2020 the Syracuse Common Council approved modified legislation to ensure accurate compliance with a grant award from the US Department of Justice for procurement of body worn cameras for use by Syracuse Police Department officers and will implement the following time table:

  • Purchase and acquisition of 113 cameras by August 28, 2020.
  • Construction of physically secured equipment docking space by September 18, 2020.
  • Coordination of BWC equipment technology software registration with AXON company, and Onondaga County 911 (CAD) integration by September 18, 2020.
  • Training of officers on the use of individually assigned (i.e. not shared) body-worn cameras. Each officer is assigned BWC by October 25, 2020.

TIMELINE

▶ 1.  SPD’s body worn camera policy will be updated by October 15, 2020.

Publicize the PBA union contract as is, while engaging in a community driven and centered renegotiating process to include recommendations for discipline by the Citizens Review Board when they sustain findings of misconduct; 

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND WITH CLARIFICATIONS.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #7), the Administration committed to: Post on the City of Syracuse and/or SPD’s website:

  1. The collection of documents that together comprise the most recent collective bargaining agreement with the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association (PBA);
  2. A comprehensive summary of that collection of documents, which my administration prepared and presented to the PBA for review and acceptance in 2019; and,
  3. The Tentative Agreement reached with the PBA in November 2019, which has not been approved, and which is now the subject of the impasse resolution process set forth in the New York State Taylor Law.

The clarifications pertain to contract negotiations because, as noted above, the Administration and PBA are currently in the midst of the impasse resolution process.  During that process, neither side can lawfully introduce new proposals.  An arbitrator will review each parties’ existing proposals and issue a binding decision as to what the terms of the next contract will be.  With respect to officer discipline, the Administration has taken the position that discipline is not a subject that can or should be negotiated with the PBA, but is reserved to the Chief.  This issue is currently being litigated in state court.  Moreover, the City has recently advocated for state legislation that would confirm that officer discipline is not a subject that can or should be negotiated with the union.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. The PBA contract and related documents have been published on www.syracusepolice.org and www.ourcity.syrgov.net/policerelations;

Pass legislation to strengthen and enhance the Syracuse Citizens Review Board such that its recommendations for sustained findings are enforceable, while maintaining the board as a citizen driven accountability board; 

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION MUST DEFER TO THE COMMON COUNCIL FOR THIS DEMAND.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #12), the Administration committed to:  Continue to improve collaboration with the Syracuse Citizen Review Board (CRB) to ensure the flow of documents and information as embodied in Local Law No. 11; Reviewing the disciplinary recommendations presented by the CRB prior to making a final determination of discipline of an officer; and, In cases where the Chief issues no discipline, or discipline that is lesser than is that recommended by the CRB, provide to the CRB a written explanation of the reason for such level of discipline or lack thereof.

The Citizen Review Board (CRB) was created by the Common Council via Local Law, and is overseen by the Common Council.  Changes to the Council-created CRB require legislative action. During the live streamed meeting with PAFPR July 2, 2020, Council President Hudson stated that she would convene a meeting between PAFPR representatives and the Common Council.

We defer to the Common Council regarding this action.

The Administration has worked and will continue to work with the CRB to improve process, communication and cooperation between the CRB and SPD.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. Implementation of the Executive Order (Action #12) will be completed by August 14, 2020.

Demilitarize the SPD and use the Ferguson Report as a guide and minimum standard;

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #6), the Administration committed to:

  1. Conduct a complete inventory of all equipment acquired through military surplus programs that are in possession of the SPD;
  2. Establish policies and procedures regarding the use of such equipment; and
  3. Establish parameters for future procurement of such equipment.

Information and data in response to questions posed at the July 2, 2020 meeting regarding military surplus equipment and unmanned systems (drone) operations in accordance with the 2013 Common Council resolution will be addressed as components of policy development and implemented as follows:

TIMELINE

▶ 1. Inventory of equipment will be completed by September 15, 2020;

▶ 2. Deployment Policy and Procedures will be completed by December 1, 2020;

▶ 3. Procurement Policy will be completed by December 1, 2020.

Redirect resources away from SPD to reinvest in human and other services, and reduce the oversized role policing has in our community;

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND WITH CLARIFICATIONS.

In accordance with the June 19 Executive Order (Action #15), the Administration committed to: Research and consider innovative, community-based strategies for responding to non-criminal calls, with a goal of shifting the paradigm from primary police response, to response by non-police professionals in relevant fields.

The current SPD budget funds police response to a wide range of situations, from high priority violent conflicts, to investigations of criminal activity, to domestic disputes and mental health issues. The Administration recognizes that the core focus of SPD must be on law enforcement; and that other city departments and community agencies are better equipped to manage and resolve non-criminal activities. Accordingly, we are committed to moving responsibilities and, where appropriate, spending allocations from SPD to those best able to achieve results.  These efforts include but are not limited to:

  • Identify current police responses eligible for non-police response which may include but are not limited to: homelessness, non-criminal mental illness, noise violations, nuisance abatement, and traffic violations.
  • Continued work with Onondaga County to expand the current Crisis Intervention Training to enable informed, safe encounters with citizens with mental health afflictions, substance use and/or developmental disabilities.
  • Identify and implement best practice models for alternative policing, which may include but is not limited to Eugene’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) model, Denver’s Alliance for Street Health Response, and Oakland’s Mobile Assistance Community Responders (MACRO) model.
  • Continue to fund the Trauma Response Team, and other local programs.

The Administration also recognizes that citizens must have a voice in city spending and that the annual budgeting process may appear to be complicated. Taxpayers deserve an accessible and comprehensive path to financial transparency and accountability.

The Budget and Finance Departments will deploy a participatory budgeting tool both online and, if possible, in-person. The initial focus will be on SPD funding and the entire city budget will be included when Fiscal Year 2022 planning begins.

The participatory tool will allow residents to clearly see how spending is currently allocated and to voice their opinion on changes that should be made, recognizing that the final budget is ultimately approved by the Common Council. Additionally, the participatory budgeting tool will provide the mechanism to identify alternative policy options such as those identified and apply tangible cost parameters.

It is important to acknowledge the City’s fiscal position as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic is projected to reduce revenues (driven largely by sales tax reductions) by as much as $35 million over two fiscal years. Under the contingency budget plans for expense reductions being considered, all city departments including SPD will see a significant reduction in their budgets. These cuts will in turn reduce funds available for reallocation.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. Identify SPD responsibilities and, where appropriate, spending reallocations and initiate participatory budget planning to begin December 1, 2020.

Research, draft, introduce and pass legislation for public oversight of surveillance technologies, including but not limited to a ban on biometric and facial recognition technologies;

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION AGREES WITH THIS DEMAND.

The Administration will issue a Surveillance Technology Executive Order to: Institute a policy requiring all departments to bring potential surveillance technology before the Common Council for review and approval prior to the procurement process.

A committee of both internal and external stakeholders will be established to review any proposed technologies that may fit the criteria of surveillance.  Proposed technologies will be subject to a multi-step process including a public comment period, and will ultimately conclude with a vote by the Common Council prior to the procurement process.  The goal of this process is to ensure that proposed surveillance technology travels through a comprehensive evaluation process which considers public input.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. A Surveillance Technology Executive Order will be issued by December 1, 2020.

Work with the Syracuse City School District to remove all school resources officers out of schools, and invest savings in counselors and other supportive staff.

THE WALSH ADMINISTRATION MUST DEFER TO THE SYRACUSE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT ON THIS DEMAND.

In accordance with June 19 Executive Order (Action #16), the Administration committed to: Develop and implement, in coordination with the Syracuse City School District, a new model for school safety and security.

TIMELINE

▶ 1. The Syracuse City School District (SCSD) will conduct a remote work session Wednesday July 22, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the topic of School Resource Officers (SROs) in schools. The Walsh Administration commits to meet with SCSD officials during the week of August 3rd to discuss the outcomes of the July 22 session and determine next steps in the process of establishing a new safety and security model.

Annabele Otts photo