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Politics and Government

Onondaga County passes police reform plan, some say it won’t change much

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Tom Magnarelli
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WRVO Public Media File Photo
Protesters outside Syracuse City Hall last year.

The Onondaga County Legislature unanimously passed a police reform and reinvention collaborative plan. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated police departments across the state review their policies and procedures, following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. But not everyone thinks these review plans will bring significant change.

The county plan is a collaboration with all the municipalities that have a police agency. A disclaimer in the report warns that it may appear overly generalized and lack specifics, pointing to local agencies to tailor their own reform plans. Still, Legislator Chris Ryan said it attempts to reinvent and modernize policing and they had to answer very difficult questions.

“How do police and police agencies rebuild community trust?” Ryan said. “How do we increase civilian oversight and increase police accountability? How do we improve recruitment, training? How do we diversify? How do we engage our mental health, alternatives to policing?”

Ryan said the report is something the county has to reinforce and continually work on.

“We have to see to it that those agencies that are involved, implement these changes and plans,” Ryan said.

Yusuf Abdul-Qadir is a senior strategist for racial justice at the New York Civil Liberties Union. He was on one of the subcommittees, but said the collaboration was largely led by law enforcement.

“I don’t think that’s normal,” Abdul-Qadir said. “I don’t think in any normal circumstance you would ask a group that is perceivably engaged in misconduct, to be the one to determine the reorienting of the misconduct.”

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick is credited with combining the efforts into one plan. The county’s sheriff's office and Syracuse police also had lead roles. Abdul-Qadir said his subcommittee met four times, but there was never a time when all the committees came together to discuss the goals and objectives.

“I am concerned because this is supposed to be a process of  ‘transforming,’ but it was really more of a process of let’s get it done and move on,” he said.

Since protests last summer, Abdul-Qadir said police departments haven't changed. He cited the recent death of a 17-year-old with a mental health crisis, shot by police in Jamesville last week, which the state attorney general is now investigating. Before the legislative vote, DA Fitzpatrick also acknowledged the incident, saying the county has had eight officer-involved fatal shootings in less than two years, which he called extraordinary and needs to be addressed.