HUDSON — As police tactics and funding come under nationwide scrutiny, the city’s police leadership defended the department and discussed the mayor’s 10% budget cut.
The 10% reduction in the city’s police budget, which Mayor Kamal Johnson called for in an executive order on June 15, will not result in a reduced police force, said Hudson Police Commisionner Peter Volkmann on Monday.
“The plan is that it won’t come from personnel,” Volkmann said. “Our goal is 10%, but if it is 9% or 8% we will have to explain that to the government and the public.”
Just over $3 million is budgeted to the Hudson police for 2020, meaning that the mayor’s budget cuts would require a reduction of $300,000.
Police salaries, including overtime, account for $2.75 million of the total budget, including $150,000 budgeted for overtime. Expenses such as uniforms, equipment and travel account for nearly $255,000 of the budget.
Volkmann declined to provide details, but said the cuts may come from “other parts of the budget,” or savings on salaries as officers retire. One officer is due to retire in July, he said.
Police Chief L. Edward Moore called his position on the cuts “anticlimactic” at the June 22 meeting of the Police Committee of the Common Council.
“I will work with whatever budget the city presents,” Moore said. “We will do the best we can with what we have.”
In addition to addressing budget cuts, Moore defended the number of officers in his department during the Police Committee meeting, adding that the department’s size is determined by crime rates and the city’s large tourist population.
The department has two lieutenants, four sergeants, one detective sergeant, four detectives and 12 patrol officers, Moore said, adding that one officer is on extended sick leave and one is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Three members of the Hudson police are African-American and five are women, Moore said.
Recruitment of minority officers is not an easy task, the police chief said Monday.
A small number of local residents fall into the recruiting age of 19-31 and the department is bound by civil service law when hiring, Moore said, adding that there is “no easy answer” to the question of police diversity.
“I think it is tough recruiting police, let alone police of color, in this environment,” he said.
The police chief pointed to his record of promoting minorities within the department, noting that he promoted a supervisor of color who is a woman and a detective of color.
Moore responded to questions from Police Committee members and members of the public at the June meeting, addressing topics such as the relationship between the police and the Department of Social Services, police training on mental illness and substance abuse and the use of body cameras.
The department has eight body cameras and will purchase 10 more with a grant from the Hudson River Bank & Trust Company Foundation.
Moore, who said his department has a close working relationship with social workers and the Department of Social Services, sought to debunk the notion that the activities of social workers and the police are separate.
“We have been linked hundreds of times, he said. “People think we have been working apart. How would you divest the police from that arrangement, from that relationship? I am not sure how you would do that.”
Michael Cozzolino, counsel to the commissioner at Columbia County Department of Social Services, said DSS works closely with law enforcement where appropriate.
“We serve all of Columbia County, and with all of law enforcement is a two-way street,” Cozzolino said. “They contact us, and we contact members of law enforcement.”
First Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff, a police committee member, read portions of a letter from a group called Hudson for Social Justice during the Police Committee meeting on June 22.
Moore said he responded within hours of receiving a copy of the letter, written by Michael Hofmann, before the meeting. He also addressed the questions raised in the letter during the committee meeting. The police chief said the group had not followed up as of Monday afternoon.
Hudson for Social Justice called on the committee to state its position on defunding the police and directing more funding to social services.
Wolff said she hoped that the police committee would explore creative ways to redirect available funding to recreate the structure of social services in the city.
“I am sympathetic to idealist and pragmatic approaches,” Wolff said.
Fourth Ward Alderman Malachi Walker applauded the mayor’s efforts and said he looks forward to hearing from the police chief about how to take preventative actions.
“I know people talk about defunding like it is a terrible thing happening. I feel that we know that bringing in other services to accommodate the police it is actually a brilliant idea,” Walker said,
Walker called the 10% cuts “reasonable” and called for a “rational” approach.
“This is our community we get to decide how things are done,” he said.
Second Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar, who chairs the police committee, said more study is needed.
“I think we can do something better. We have to study more,” Sarowar said.
First Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley said recent events had brought to light the need to reassess policing and the role of the police. The police mindset needs to be as a guardian, not a warrior, she said.
Trombley noted the timing of the conversation about policing.
“The time has come, the time has past come, but we can only do what we’ve got when we’ve got it,” Trombley said, adding that she hopes the mayor’s proposed reconciliation committee and community conversations will lead to progress in the realm of mental health treatment and other social services.
Third Ward Alderman Calvin Lewis, who is not on the police committee, said he commends the mayor’s efforts and called the 10% cuts ”necessary” and “the beginning of longer conversation.”
“I think this is what progressive government looks like,” Lewis said. “A lot of people today are looking for an avenue to actively participate in law enforcement and feel included. I am all for working with allies.”
Lewis said the police chief serves at the will of the Common Council and the public, not the other way around.
“Often times the paradigm with law enforcement is they are at the climax and the civilian is at the bottom,” Lewis said.
Lewis pointed to the mayor’s reconciliation committee as an example of Hudson making positive steps forward.
“I look forward to more fruitful conversations that are transparent and as inclusive as can be,” he said. “Our community is looking for way to be part of the solution.”