New Paltz City Council begins interviewing candidates for police commission

New Paltz City Council members interviewed four candidates for the five-member police commission during their Feb. 17 meeting. This is the latest step in a years-long process to restore a level of independence to the body that oversees the department’s budget and reviews disciplinary matters. Under former supervisor Susan Zimet, city council members disbanded the volunteer board and took on those duties themselves, saying a volunteer board unduly complicated the budget process to justify a decision that was also described as a political decision motivated by the fact that the commission’s chairman at the time, Randall Leverette, had recently challenged Zimet for the position of supervisor. The lift to restore the old system has been eased by mandatory increased scrutiny of police practices and race relations, the result of an executive order directed to leaders of local police forces to form “commissions of reinvention”. In New Paltz, restoring some semblance of independence was a specific recommendation of the report.

A police commission cannot be entirely immune to politics, because in New York it is understood that elected officials bear the ultimate responsibility in a democracy. Members will be appointed by city council vote, and current city council members have worked hard to find candidates from groups considered more likely to interact with police, such as people of color. None of the applicants provided information about their racial or ethnic origin, gender identity or membership in a marginalized group, but board members talked about inviting people to apply to complement those who submitted letters of interest in response to the general call for applications. These concentrated efforts have yet to produce enough bodies to fill all five seats, let alone fill more candidates.

Council members interviewed Johnny Coxum, a retired college police officer who spoke about his ability to bring the perspectives of both community members and a law enforcement officer. Karrie Rahaman-Bunce, a school administrator in Newburgh, would seek to learn from police and community healing efforts in that community to prevent such large schisms from developing in New Paltz. David Brownstein, a recent member of the city council, seeks to bring the experience of serving on this version of the commission to this new body and to anchor it in this history. Attorney Cindy Sanchez would bring lessons learned from finding solutions while practicing matrimonial law to find ways to help all members of the community – including members of the department – ​​feel that police officers are members of this community. community, with common values ​​and goals.

There is an obvious interest in continuing to seek more candidates for this position which, after a period of training, will largely consist of preparing for and attending one evening meeting a month, but there is an urgent desire against this. to cut the control of the police from political influence as soon as possible. as possible. No appointments have yet been made, and town residents are encouraged to email letters of interest to [email protected].

See you soon in the new justice center

The first opportunity for members of the public to attend city council meetings in the meeting hall of the new justice center will not come until the ides of March, but perhaps soon after. The exemption from holding meetings lasts virtually until March 16, and supervisor Neil Bettez would like to prepare for the likelihood that it will not be extended further. At this first meeting in March, board members will confirm their intention to hold hybrid meetings thereafter, with members of the public welcome to the new space.

In the meantime, a new screen will be ordered to allow the continuation of the hybrid option. Members of the public who are unwilling or unable to attend in person will continue to be able to watch the meetings live and participate in public commentary if they wish. Council members also agreed to reopen City Hall to members of the public, but leave the face covering requirement in place. The number of coronavirus cases will be closely monitored ahead of the next meeting.

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