TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Activists across Troy gathered outside the police department Thursday calling on city council to vote “no” to making the department even bigger.
“The City of Troy needs community investment, not more police and the community did not ask for more police,” says one organizer Daquetta Jones, a board member for the Justice Center of Rensselaer County.
Representatives from several local organizations form the The People’s Council of Troy. Thursday afternoon, they gathered in response to an ordinance up for a city council vote to make a 2021 budget amendment adding enough funding for six new police officers to join the force.
City leadership says these officers will function as community police officers who’s job will be to walk the streets of their assigned areas and make dedicated efforts to communicating with people who live there. Mayor Patrick Madden says it is a move people have repeatedly asked him for.
“It’s not just more police. They want police that are able to spend time with them, they want to know who their police officer is, and they want their police officer to know them,” Mayor Madden explains in a Zoom call with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“We’ve had a lot of our residents, and I’m talking a majority number of residents, who are pleased that we are making this move,” claims City Council District 1 Member Jim Gulli.
However, the activists who gathered Thursday say they don’t believe Mayor Madden and council members have been asking the right people. Fifteen members were appointed to the Troy Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative which was formed in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order mandating municipalities submit plans for police reform by April 1. Thursday’s organizers say despite an additional public comment period before the final plan was submitted, it seems to them by starting immediately with adding more police officers, city leaders did not take their concerns into enough consideration.
“I haven’t heard anything about their plans, anything from city council members, or from the mayor himself on what they’re doing besides this vote on adding more funding and more police,” says Angela Beallor of Reimagine Troy.
“If the community had access and been informed or made aware of anything that they are doing, then we wouldn’t be here. We would surely appreciate it, but that is not happening,” says Jessica Ashley also of the Justice Center of Rensselaer County.
The PRRC final report makes assurances to set up working groups geared towards establishing a number of recommendations, including mental health crisis intervention, diversion programs for youth offenders, and investing in better re-entry programs. The response lines indicate these working groups would be formed within one month of the final report; however, Mayor Madden does admit there is still no clear timeline for their creation.
“We’re developing those now and identifying those organizations that might contribute to these work groups, but it’s a bit more difficult because you’re trying to bring these entities together that have very complex and busy schedules,” he says.
He calls the funding for community police officers “low-hanging fruit”.
“Like any multi-pronged project, we do grab the easy ones first and advance those and get those moving along. You want to show the community that you’re making progress,” Madden says.
He adds the ordinance line up for vote Thursday night does not create new positions, but transfers funds from a contingency account to the Police Department account to the tune of $125,580 for salaries, $36,000 for uniforms, $10,427 for Social Security, $5,774 in holiday pay, $2,400 in premium pay, and $2,550 for a clothing allowance. He says the positions would be created through the civil service process, and although it would allow applicants to enter the police training academy by July, the training timeline would mean those community officers would not hit the streets until 2022.
However, he did address concerns voiced by local community members that the ordinance does not clearly specify that the funding would be exclusively for community police officers.
“We did add some additional language which I believe will be in an amendment on the floor tonight that makes it clear that the purpose of these additional funds is to hire six new police officers who will serve as community police officers,” he says.
“We get between 50 and 55,000 calls a year for police assistance. We have to have the bodies available to answer those calls. Our police officers are consumed answering calls, detectives are consumed resolving cases. We need people who are not part of the patrol division whose sole division and role is to circulate in the neighborhoods, working with individuals, and spending time with them,” he goes on to say.
The People’s Council of Troy members say not only does the immediate move to bolster police department forces show to them an apparent lack in priorities, they also don’t believe the PRRC does enough to acknowledge racial bias or racism in and out of the police department.
“What you can do is take six officers from the 130 that you have, train them to be community officers, and then take the time to address the problems that we have in this department such as racism in the police department and racism on the streets,” says Ashley.
“The question is, are they going to be police officers of color? Will these police officers reflect our community? Will these police officers be from our community or will these officers be hired from outside our community? People who don’t understand our community and our culture here in Troy?” asks Troy local Shaquana Smith.
“They’re right and we’re right. You can’t be taking away from one to build to another. We need to build both,” responds Gulli.
Councilmember Gulli responds to activists “crime doesn’t go away”, and argues instead of defunding the police department, he believes the community should support police and remove the stigma against officers in order to draw in more quality applicants.
“When you get verbally beat up and pressured as much as you’re getting pressured to feel like you’re all bad, I think that deters anybody from wanting to make a career out of being a police officer. I think that we need to respect those people for the work that they do,” Gulli says.
“I think our guys are getting really tired and burnt out, and I think it’s time we give them a little relief,” he goes on to say.
Mayor Madden concludes he wants the community to see the vote does not overshadow work being done to address other police reform recommendations, while activists respond they’re asking to be truly heard and treated as equal partners in the race for change.
“It doesn’t mean that we are not doing anything else. There are other things that are progressing,” Madden says.
“We must seek for a way that people can be seen by their officials as beloved children of God before they are seen as a threat,” says Pastor Paul Sweet of Christ Church.
“My generation will not see justice. I need for my grandson to know justice,” says Ashley.
Troy’s City Council meeting will begin with the finance agenda at 6 p.m. and with the regular agenda, including the vote for community police officer funding, to begin at 7 p.m. For a link to watch the full Troy City Council meeting click here.