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Syracuse councilor, police chief exchange strong words over ‘Right to Know’ law

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner.

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner is asking for more time to review Right to Know legislation, which has been drafted by the Common Council. The law is meant to provide more transparency in police practices and inform people of their right to privacy. But during an online committee meeting, one councilor pushed back strongly against the chief.

Buckner said the police department does not take issue with the main points of the law. But from a logistical standpoint, he said it’s a big move, and some things are still not clear.

“What you’re going to end up with, is a bunch of written language, where the police department is consistently not in compliance with it, because we didn’t make adjustments when we implemented,” Buckner said.

Police received a copy of the draft legislation last week and the council is scheduled to vote on it next week.

“We’re moving forward at a rapid pace, for something that is monumental for the police department,” Buckner said. “I’m officially trying to warn you as best I possibly can, we’re going to disappoint you.”

Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey pushed back against Buckner, saying there’s plenty of time for police to make any recommendations of changes, before the vote.  

“I think we have to be careful about this idea that the council has to give everybody a heads-up," Bey said. "That’s not true. We pass laws, then those laws have to be followed. That’s just how it goes.”

Right to Know requires officers to identify themselves by name and rank and provide a reason why they are stopping someone. If a stop does not result in an arrest or summons, the officer must offer a business card, which would include information for the Citizen Review Board, the independent agency that investigates police misconduct. The law says the police chief must develop a policy for officers to get consent from someone to conduct a search. The department would also need to post data online quarterly, regarding how many times consent was obtained, and how many times it was denied.

Strong words were exchanged between Buckner and Bey, when Buckner compared Right to Know to the Citizen Review Board, saying both are laws that have good intentions, but are poorly written.

"I'm simply sounding an alarm saying, we're heading for CRB number two," Buckner said.

"I'm saying that you're wrong," Bey responded. “To suggest you gave your warning, you’re out of pocket right now chief.”

"If there's a warning that needs to be issue issued from the police department, I think I fit in the chair that issues the warning," Buckner continued.

"I understand, but you received our warning as well," Bey said.

If passed, the law would go into effect immediately.

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.