Police panel focuses on personnel complaints

Members of Hudson police investigate shots fired near State Street in this May 2019 file photo. Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media/File

HUDSON — Scrutiny of police department policies continued at Monday night’s police committee meeting.

Police Chief L. Edward Moore and Police Commissioner Peter Volkmann addressed hiring, promotion and complaints against officers. The officials also gave a status report on their efforts to comply with the police reforms detailed in Mayor Kamal Johnson’s June 15 executive order.

The meeting’s high attendance reflected the increased interest in police affairs nationwide following the death of George Floyd, with several dozen members of the public tuned in to the virtual meeting.

Michael Hofmann, a member of the group Hudson for Social Justice, presented the results of a Freedom of Information Law request that indicated seven personnel complaints were filed against officers between 2017 and 2020.

Moore said Tuesday that the number is slightly higher, with a total of nine reported in the past three years. Seven of those complaints were filed by members of the public and two were filed internally, Moore said.

All complaints made against officers were documented and investigated in accordance with departmental policy, Moore said. Two of the investigations resulted in an officer being disciplined for misconduct.

Moore and Volkmann declined to provide details of the misconduct allegations, except to say the incidents were nonviolent.

“This is the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the public to know about it,” Volkmann said.

Hofmann questioned the process for submitting a complaint against an officer.

Members of the public must enter police headquarters to file a personnel complaint, which is a deterrent for many people, Hofmann said Tuesday.

Going into police headquarters to file a complaint is akin to “identifying yourself as effectively an enemy of the police department,” Hofmann said.

“Some sort of intermediary is needed to alleviate the fear that Hudson citizens might have about filing a complaint,” he said.

The police chief disagreed and said he believes that personnel complaint forms are also available at city hall.

Issues rarely rise to the level of an official complaint, Moore said.

“People get angry and emotional when they get ticketed or arrested. People say, ‘I am going to complain’ and then they don’t,” Moore said.

Moore said he sometimes receives verbal complaints about officers. Regardless of the way a complaint is reported, the department takes all complaints seriously, he said.

The Hudson police department has a system of progressive discipline, Volkmann said.

“You can’t fire an officer unless it’s so egregious,” Volkmann said in response to a public question about the officer who was the subject of disciplinary action remaining in uniform.

Police officers are subject to two types of errors: mistakes of the head and mistakes of the heart, Volkmann said.

Mistakes of the head are instances of bad judgment that can be corrected with discipline, but mistakes of the heart are much more serious, Volkmann said.

“Our job as administration is to distinguish the difference,” Volkmann said. “We struggle in law enforcement to distinguish a mistake of the heart from an officer who shouldn’t be an officer. Where is that line?”

Besides the issue of complaints against officers, the police committee reported an update on the status of the mayor’s June 15 executive order. The executive order called for a 10% reduction in the police budget and increased accountability to elected officials.

About 75% of the mayor’s reforms were existing police policy, and the department is taking steps to fully comply with the remaining 25%, Moore said.

Volkmann said Hudson would implement a text message alert system to notify city officials of developing situations, such as the reported shooting that took place near South 1st Street and Cherry Alley shortly before the police committee meeting began.

Both Volkmann and Moore said they welcomed the increased scrutiny of police policies and budgeting.

“It is about accountability and transparency,” Volkmann said Tuesday. “People need to know the cost of policing.”

Hofmann said Hudson for Social Justice remains in the “research phase” to better understand the data of policing and police budgeting.

“We are hoping there is a continued openness on the part of the chief and the commissioner to aid in our education,” Hofmann said.

Hofmann said he hopes the discussion leads to more significant action on the part of city officials to envision the future of public safety in the city.

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