CATSKILL — The village of Catskill’s police reform and reinvention committee released its draft report Thursday and residents will have an opportunity to comment on the plan next week.
The plan was developed in response to a state executive order in June requiring all municipalities with a police agency to conduct a review of policies and procedures and develop a plan to improve them in a way that will address the needs of the community.
The report included recommendations for better engagement with the community, less intimidating uniforms, a civilian review board and additional training. Residents can comment on the plan at the public hearing March 24.
Catskill Police Chief David Darling was supportive of the recommendations.
“They want more community interaction with police officers and a review board, which I have no problem with,” Darling said. “I think it was constructive criticism, which I have no problem with.”
The committee also recommended the agency give a biweekly report to the village board, closely examine the budget and keep the committee active for a year to continue the review process, Darling said.
“I get the message, I understand what they’re saying,” he said. “I will continue to work with them.”
The committee will meet on a quarterly basis to monitor the progress of the department as recommendations are implemented, according to the plan. The lieutenants are asked to meet with the committee within 60 days of the plan’s adoption to go over ways to increase officer-involved programming and events in the community.
The committee recommended the establishment of a Police Advisory Accountability Board, which will consist of five members of the community. The village board and police chief will be apprised of any complaints received.
The plan calls for more interaction on the department’s Facebook page, including a “meet the officers” section.
The committee also recommended a uniform change.
“A lot of research shows that the police uniform itself can be very intimidating,” according the plan. “Khakis and a polo shirt tucked in with the Catskill Police Department logo on it are recommended for at least one officer to wear per shift.” The committee recommended the village board discuss having a 24/7 mental health crisis team on call with the county. Another recommendation was to have officers attend diversity and inclusion training, as well as the Science of Recovery and Addiction training,
The group had two public meetings, one that included members of the police department. A survey was also administered. About 75% of respondents said they were satisfied with the department’s service, 76% said they trusted the police department and 80% said they would feel comfortable calling the police department. Of residents surveyed, 57% said they would be comfortable filing a complaint about an officer and not fear retaliation, while 26% disagreed.
Residents were asked if they had personal experienced or witnessed inappropriate, threatening or intimidating behavior, or discrimination of any kind by a Catskill police officer. Eighty-four percent of residents surveyed said no, 16% said yes.
In terms of responding to mental health calls, 59% agreed officers should respond even if a mental health worker is present and 27% disagreed. A total of 66% of residents said they disagreed with defunding the police, 18% agreed with the concept. Eighty-five percent of residents surveyed said they wanted to keep the department, while 15% said no. A total of 14% of residents who were surveyed said they did not live in the village of Catskill.
Catskill is comprised of more than 4,000 village residents, according to the 2010 census. About 60% of residents are white, 31% are Black, 7% are Hispanic, 0.6% are Asian, 0.4% are Native American and 0.02% are Pacific Islander. About 19% of the population lives below the poverty line. Over the past two decades, about 80% of the arrests in the village have been white suspects versus 20% Black, according to the plan.
The Catskill Police Department has 15 full-time officers, including Darling, Lt. Ronald Frascello, Lt. Daniel Waer and four sergeants. There are also two part-time officers and six dispatchers, four of whom are part-time. Two of the officers are minorities and there are no female officers, according to the plan.
The department has been an accredited agency for the past 12 years and until recently, was the only accredited agency in the county.
Officers complete 21 to 23 hours of annual training and all new hires are required to ride along with a senior officer for 160 hours before they can patrol alone, according to the report. Officers receive training in use of force, anti-bias and de-escalation training.
No-knock warrants and choke holds are banned by the department. The department has not had a use-of-force complaint in the last five years. There are no reports within the past decade of a Catskill police officer injuring a civilian. The department has had three personnel complaints in the past year and disciplinary action was taken. The nature of the complaints or disciplinary action was not listed in the report.
The agency does not have body cameras.
The 2020-21 budget for the department is $1.3 million, or 26.5% of the village’s $4.9 million budget.