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Syracuse councilors concerned police reform plan is ‘window dressing’

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner at the Council's Public Safety Committee meeting, last week.

Syracuse common councilors are questioning how effective the city's police reform plan will be. The Council passed it unanimously on Monday. But councilors are skeptical about the police department implementing the changes.

All police departments in the state were mandated to complete a review of their policies and procedures, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year, and the nationwide protests that followed. Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said last week, the city’s reform plan has measurable deadlines, and an oversight committee, to hold their feet to the fire.

“We heard clearly from the community that a plan is just words on paper unless there’s a process to make sure that plan is fluid,” Owens said.

In the months ahead, data collection will begin for an annual use-of-force report and an online dashboard of citizen complaints and disciplinary outcomes. A community panel will participate in the police hiring process. Police will have training on the history of racism, will stop using terms like “emotionally disturbed person” replaced with “person in crisis.” And there will be a rollout of an on-demand language translation app.

But Councilor-at-Large Ronnie White Jr. questions if and how these reforms will happen. He brought up a dispute police and councilors have had over the Right to Know law, passed last year, after police only put their last names, rather than their full names, on business cards they’re required to hand out when stopping someone.

“Success will actually be determined by how this administration and the police department go about implementing the suggestions in this plan,” White said.

He added that there needs to be proper oversight of the police department by the Council. Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey said while the review was mandated by the state under penalty of losing financial aid, there is no penalty if the police department doesn’t implement the changes.

“The efforts to put in place framework for better enforcement, I can appreciate,” Bey said. “I’m not really clear on what power the legislators in their respective cities and towns have really been granted, except to make it look like it’s a real effort toward reform. Seems more window dressing than anything.”

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.