POUGHKEEPSIE — The City of Poughkeepsie is firmly committed to public safety, as demonstrated by recently released statistics showing most categories of violent crimes have dropped dramatically over the last decade and by the city’s hiring of new officers, bringing the police department back to full strength for the first time in three years. But city officials are not stopping there.
Mayor Rob Rolison and Police Chief Thomas Pape are rolling out ambitious plans to build on the momentum regarding public safety.
“We have made great strides,” Mayor Rolison said. “But there is more we can do, and I’m proud how the police department has responded to the challenge.”
This week, the police department completed several important tasks and will implement other proposals in 2019. They include:
Placing a school resource officer in the City of Poughkeepsie School District. The School Resource Officer (SRO) Program has been known to create a safer school environment and bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement, establishing a channel of communication that can make all the difference in school and later in life for youth. SROs make students, faculty, staff and parents feel welcome, but also provide private and confidential appointments when necessary. On Tuesday, Officer Karen Zirbel was introduced to students at rallies at the Poughkeepsie middle and high schools as the police department’s school resource officer. “I’m not here to punish people,” she told the students, “I’m here to help.”
Improving the complaint form process. These forms are used when the public has questions about police procedures and policies. The city has enhanced its complaint process by improving accessibility and by developing a new easy-to-use online reporting tool. Forms can be used to file civilian complaints and for commendations for the actions of officers. Submitted forms will be reviewed by a member of the command staff and assigned to the appropriate supervisor for action. The forms are available at http://cityofpoughkeepsie.com/police-department.
Restoring the community policing unit. This unit was dissolved in 2011 as a result of budget cuts. This week, the city designated two officers to begin community policing addressing quality of life issues around the Main Street corridor. Community policing keeps officers patrolling the same area in order to form a stronger bond with the citizens living and working there. The city plans to add officers to this cause when six new recruits graduate the police academy later this year.
Working effectively with SNUG. Operation SNUG (guns spelled backwards) is a statewide implementation of the Cure Violence model in New York. The city recently asked local SNUG officials to make changes in the schedules of outreach workers to have more of a presence when students are let out of school.
“We appreciate how quickly Danny Hairston, SNUG coordinator at Family Services, Inc., and his team responded to our requests, in light of some of the activity we have seen by some students after they leave school grounds,” said Police Chief Pape. The chief said police regularly respond to reports of students fighting in and around the schools after dismissal.
Equipping the officers with body cameras. Over the next five years, the city will invest $510,120 in equipment, and initial deployment of this new resource will start this fall. First, there will be a pilot program involving six cameras, but the city has committed to 65 cameras and supportive equipment, such as docking stations. The city has consulted with experts, including civil rights attorneys, to develop policies that comply with federal and state laws and follow best practices. The cameras will provide more transparency about how officers operate in the field – and about the situations to which they respond.
Completing implicit bias training for officers. The police department completed procedural justice training in December, and the implicit bias training is scheduled to be finished by this fall. Procedural justice focuses on the way police interact with the public, with the understanding that treating people with dignity and respect and giving citizens a voice during encounters promotes community trust. Building upon this training, officers are focusing on learning more about implicit bias, the automatic association people now make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups. Studies have shown that people and institutions can act on racial prejudices, in spite of the best of intentions and nondiscriminatory policies or standards. Additionally, a committee including police officers, some Common Council members and community members will meet as often as necessary to address community concerns as they relate to police relations.
Improving the diversity ranks. City officials met with Dutchess County civil service officials recently to discuss exam requirements. They also met with members of the Upsilon Tau Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. This group is devoted to creating local interest in careers in law enforcement, focusing on minorities. The city police also conducts a “Careers in Law Enforcement” program for local students, in part, to create a path for more diversity on the force.
Building on the success of the officer retention package. The program raises salaries for officers to keep the city competitive with its neighbors and other regional police departments. This package will make it easier to keep and hire officers. Over the last year, the city has been able to increase its ranks from 79 to 92 officers, bringing the staff to full strength.
Addressing any issues raised in a Poughkeepsie police survey. That survey was sent out to 3,000 randomly selected households last year to gauge the public’s feelings about community-police interactions. The Marist College Center for Social Justice Research is tabulating the results of that survey.
Collaborating with the public for help. Police can’t do it alone. Curbing crime takes a comprehensive effort, with community members coming forward when necessary to report crime or what they may have witnessed. Anyone with information about crime can reach the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department at 845-451-7577. The city also pays $250 to anyone who provides information leading to the recovery of an illegal gun and $500 for information leading to an arrest of a person possessing an illegal gun. All such reports are entirely confidential.
Moving forward with these measures comes on the heels of a report from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services showing a decrease in crime in the city. Specifically, violent crimes have dropped from 417 in 2009 to 216 in 2018, a 48.2 percent decrease. And robberies, burglaries and property crimes also have fallen by 50 percent or more during the same timeframe.
“This is great news for the community and a testament to the hard work done by our police department,” Mayor Rolison said. “We look forward to working with the community to make Poughkeepsie as safe as possible so people can live, work and prosper here in our city.”