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As Syracuse police chief steps down, advocates want reform to use of force policy

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Black Lives Matter protesters gather at Syracuse City Hall in response to an alleged excessive force incident by police earlier this year.

Today is Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler’s last day on the job and with the new chief, Kenton Buckner, being sworn in Monday, some advocacy groups see it as an opportunity to start a conversation about the police department’s use of force policy with a new administration. 

The Syracuse Police Accountability and Reform Coalition is hosting a panel discussion on the issue with the public on Saturday.

Andrew Croom, a staff attorney at Legal Services of Central New York, said about a year ago, the coalition was formed among organizations and individuals pushing reforms that can rebuild trust between the community and police.

“We think it’s important for people to become educated on the issue of use of force, which is one of the main goals of the panel discussion on Saturday," Croom said. "The panel will discuss what does use of force mean and how that use of force policy could be better.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union analyzed the city's policy and said it is badly in need of reform. One of the panelists, Kevin Jason, a staff attorney with the NYCLU, said the policy needs to go beyond just the minimally required legal standards. 

“We think it would be far better to lay out in clear plain terms what an officer’s standards should be for force, as well as giving examples in the policy, so they can give guidance,” Jason said.

The NYCLU also said the policy does not ban chokeholds, take into account the use of deadly force on a child, and should not defer to whether an officer intended to use deadly force or not.

“For deadly force, it’s not so much whether or not an officer intended to use deadly force, but it is more, usually a relevant question for a policy guideline, is whether the action itself could have just resulted in serious injury or death,” Jason said. 

The city of Syracuse has had incidents of excessive use of force in recent years. Last month, a man was awarded more than $1.5 million dollars by a jury after police punched him. And the NYCLU has filed lawsuits in situations where a taser was used on students and a 14-year-old was put in an alleged chokehold. 

The panel will be held on Sat. Dec. 1, from noon-2 p.m. at the Syracuse Central Library.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.