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Syracuse police reform committee says progress being made, still more to be done

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)

It’s been a year since the city of Syracuse adopted a police reform initiative, required by the state in the wake of deaths of unarmed black men across the country. This week, an eight-person oversight committee reported to the community how the six-part plan has impacted the community and the Syracuse Police Department.

Some of the changes have been simple. For example, instead of referring to a call with mental health ramifications as involving an emotionally disturbed person, they’re now referred to as being a person in crisis.

Other changes have greater implications. Committee member Barrie Gewanter says one major step forward is an app, now available to police, that provides interpreters at scenes where someone doesn’t speak English.

“From August 2021, to December 2021, the app was used to translate 100 minutes of conversation, when there wouldn’t have been effective communication before," said Gewanter.

The initiative also gives police officers help with mental health issues or addiction calls. Syracuse is contracting with Liberty Services to provide mental health workers on calls when necessary. Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens, the chair of the committee, said it’s been a good partnership so far.

"They have been very efficient with responding in a timely manner,” said Owens. “It is at that point those two organizations collaboratively discuss the situation and Liberty Resources determines that it is a scene in which they wish to take control, and SPD backs off."

Going forward, there will be additions to the initiative, including classes at Le Moyne College this summer for police officers to learn about Syracuse’s racist past involving law enforcement.

"That may help officers understand reactions they’re getting,” said Gewanter. “That have nothing to do with them as individuals, but have everything to do with what police have represented in times in our history both past, and fairly recent.

Owens encourages residents to look at progress of the initiative on the dashboard on the new city website, adding the committee will continue to watch over the police reform initiative.

“If we are not the only municipality, we are one of very few that created an oversight committee and has this type of relationship," she said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.