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Two Years After Floyd's Death, Syracuse Police Reform Is Work in Progress

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered municipalities to review and reform their police procedures. Today, Syracuse police have made positive steps, but officials say they still have a long way to go.

(TNS) — Syracuse, N.Y., police officers now have access to a phone-based language app to communicate with non-English speakers. They can summon mental health professionals to the scene when they need help dealing with persons in crisis. And soon they will get training on the history of racism in policing, nationally and in Syracuse.

Those are a few of the steps taken under the city’s police reform initiative, according to members of an eight-person committee that oversees the process.

But there is still a long way to go, committee members said during a YouTube presentation Monday night. They urged members of the public to monitor progress on the city’s online “dashboard” and to contact the committee with problems or suggestions.

Some of the information on the website is still spotty. One commenter noted during the YouTube event that a couple of mandated quarterly reports with data on traffic stops and other police interactions appeared to be missing. Police Sgt. Mark Rusin, a member of the oversight committee, said he would make sure the data is posted soon.

Like other municipalities in the state, Syracuse was required by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order in June 2020 to review its procedures in light of the deaths of unarmed Black men such as George Floyd, whose murder in May 2020 provoked nationwide protests.

But Syracuse is one of the few cities in New York to form an oversight committee and take Cuomo’s order “as an opportunity for quality improvement,” said Barrie Gewanter, former executive director of the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“I’m really proud of my city for doing that, for taking this opportunity,’’ she said.

During her days at the NYCLU, Gewanter had her share of run-ins with Syracuse police over officer conduct, use-of-force policies and other issues. But as the Common Council appointee to the Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan Oversight Committee, Gewanter said her concerns are getting heard.

During an 80-minute presentation on YouTube, members of the committee joined Mayor Ben Walsh and Police Chief Joe Cecile to highlight information on the city website that tracks progress on 33 actions that were promised under the reform plan adopted last year. Cecile, who took over as chief last month, said transparency will help police create better community relations.

“Transparency is our friend,’’ he said.

Among other information, the website has links to dozens of written police policies, on subjects such as body cameras and use of force. The policy database ranges from “air support” to “warrant service.”

Committee member Ranette Releford, administrator of the Citizen Review Board, urged city residents to monitor the police reform dashboard and contact committee members with input.

“We can only do as much as we know to do, in a sense, and as much feedback as you provide us.’’ Releford said.

In addition to Gewanter, Rusin and Releford, the oversight committee includes:
  • Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens, committee chair.
  • Chol Majok, Syracuse Common Councilor, public safety chair.
  • David Chaplin, mayoral appointee.
  • Susan Katzoff, Syracuse Corporation Counsel.
  • Cimone Jordan, Neighborhood and Business Development planner.

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