Kingston’s mayor hosted a forum on policing and community relations Monday night. The idea was to open lines of communication among residents, police officers and police commissioners. Several residents say they appreciated the forum, but there is lots of work to be done.
Kingston Mayor Steve Noble and city Police Chief Egidio Tinti addressed the audience at City Hall before breaking into three discussion areas. Noble says during the February police commission meeting — when residents raised a number of questions — he saw the need for a separate forum.
“It was important for us to meet that community need and be able to, again, not stemming from one specific incident, but just a general interest, for the first time in a long time, about how we police our city,” Noble says. “And I think that that’s important.”
Kingston resident Cassandra Dassie says she came to listen and learn. She commended city officials for putting together the forum and hopes more will be held.
“What’s your sense of the relationship between the community and the policing?” asks Dunne.
“I think there’s still a long way to go. I think there’s still not a lot of honesty in it. And I think people just need to look each other in the eye,” says Dassie. “That’s the good thing that’s happening. We’re in the same room. You can actually look each other in the eye, but the honesty is still not quite there yet, so.”
“Do you think there’s racial bias?” Dunne asks.
“Definitely, definitely,” says Dassie.
“So I think a community forum like this is very important to have. It opens, it keeps open lines of communication with the police department and the community members. I think, for us, it’s an opportunity to discuss what changes we’ve made over the last few years and improvements and whatnot. And this particular forum allows officers within each division — training, operations, patrol — to kind of tell people that are here, hey listen, this is how we do things, this is our policy,” Tinti says. “And, in addition, now we have a table with police commissioners on it that can definitely talk about the policy development and review that they’re responsible for before the police department implements it.”
The Police Commission table appeared to draw the largest crowd during the breakout discussions. Nina Dawson is a former city council member and newest member of the volunteer Police Commission.
“In the middle of people wanting to make the city progress, there are people that are actually hating on both sides. And we can’t have that. We can’t progress like that, a city can’t progress like that,” Dawson says. “So, honestly, I’m just hoping that I can, my contribution can be to make things fair on both sides.”
Liz Baker’s son alleges he was abused by police and repeatedly tased in 2015. He has since been convicted of misdemeanor blocking governmental administration. Baker, who says there is an open complaint concerning her son against the police, says seeing officers gathered in the back of the room was unwelcoming.
And, nothing’s been done yet and you let him be here but yet I have to call my son and tell him, don’t come, because I don’t want him to get anxiety over it. It’s not fair, it’s not fair,” Baker says. “This is a community thing. If he wanted to be in it as a, come in your regular clothes representing our uniform, knowing what you’ve done. It’s disgusting, to say the least.”
She had addressed Tinti during the Q&A, and Tinti, saying he, too, is a cop, defended the officers’ presence at the forum. Noble says the hope is to build trust and reduce the number of incidents where there is second guessing.
“Because if the community doesn’t trust us and trust how we’re going to handle when these incidents occur, then it’s really, it’s, no one’s going to win,” Noble says.
Noble says he looks to be proactive in the community’s relations with police.
“We’re about ready to introduce the Right to Know Act,” Noble says. “So every time an officer meets a resident or a citizen, they’ll be able to go ahead and give them a card that has their business information, their badge number, as well as how to file a complaint.”
He says the police commission likely will vote on this in April. Other questions pertained to body camera policy. Here’s Tinti.
“Right now, we’re wearing body cameras,” says Tinti. “You can see I have one on now, but the policy itself has not been formally adopted.”
He expects the Police Commission appointed by the mayor, who chairs the commission, will vote to adopt the policy in a month or so. Tinti says there are not enough cameras for every shift, and he has been rotating the cameras and operating under a draft policy since January.
Rosendale resident Peter Heymann is a community organizer on the issue of undoing racism. He applauds the forum but would like to see a change in format.
“Because we’ve always had those in power at the front, and I think we need to change that,” Heymann says. “I think, they’re welcome, we want their, I mean, they’re important. I think they should be sitting here and we should have a panel of citizens up front. That’s my feeling.”
Meantime, Noble hopes those in attendance recognize the city’s effort.
“I want them to at least know that we’re trying, that we’re really trying to build relationships between our community and our police department. I hope they’ll know that it’s also not easy to be able to do that,” says Noble. “And so we just want them to know that we’re going to be a partner with them and we’re going to just, we’re going to work through this all together.”
He says there will be other forums on policing and community relations to come.