Malone revamps police reform plan after public opposition
MALONE — After an initial draft was met with outcry and roundly criticized at a public hearing Monday evening, the Village of Malone worked through a revamped police reform plan Friday afternoon.
The revamped plan, a 22-page document, follows frustration from the public after the village’s initial plan, a 13-page document, was criticized for the language it employed and for its author, Calvin Martin, who lists himself as editor of a website, rivercitymalone.com, which posts stories touting conspiracy theories including the danger of COVID-19 vaccines and the dangers of 5G.
Martin’s draft referred to minorities in the community as few in number and transient, rather than long-term residents, while also emphasizing the community’s French Canadian heritage.
The original plan also included a recommendation for the state to adopt renewable community subsidies in lieu of renewable energy subsidies for green energy projects, while only devoting a small section to law enforcement interactions with racial or cultural minorities.
The new draft of the plan, discussed Friday afternoon, lacks the lengthy historical anecdotes of the original, but does include, sections on public engagement, a culture of accountability, and a conclusion that indicates the goal of making all community members feel safe.
“The village of Malone and the Malone Village Police are committed to working with the community to make the changes necessary to address the issues so each and every member of our community feels safe, protected, and valued,” the new draft states.
The new plan’s conclusion also indicates the village’s police chief will form a committee to turn the recommendations within the final reform plan into an action plan with priority timelines, and measures by fall 2021.
Recommended training will be completed by December 2021 and the village police will release an updated community policing plan by fall 2021.
Another difference between the new plan and the original draft is the new plan’s inclusion of a section on principals and strategies that are recognized as reducing racial disparities and building trust, which includes research and assessment of disparity, development and use of arrest alternatives, and implementation of cultural competency as a core component in operations and training.
Another section of the new plan deals with community engagement and has a subsection devoted to marginalized communities.
At Friday’s meeting, Malone Village Police Chief Christopher Premo said the department started diversity and de-escalation training in 2019, .
This training is directed by Sonny Duquette who runs the SUNY Potsdam Law Enforcement Training Institute, according to Premo.
According to Mayor Andrea Dumas the recommended changes from Friday’s meeting will be incorporated into a new draft of the reform plan and the committee will reconvene at the village office, Monday at 4 p.m., to further discuss reform efforts.
“I didn’t think we were going to but I feel confident we will have this submitted, even though we might have some words we may have to tweak,” Dumas said, “Just because we submit it doesn’t mean our community cannot continue to move forward.”
During Friday’s meeting, one point of discussion was on whether or not to lead off the report’s conclusion with a reference to systematic issues as a plague on all communities, including Malone.
Points were made for and against retaining this language.
Michelle Schumacher, director of the Malone YMCA, encouraged the retention of this language.
Kennedy Jarvis, a Black resident of Malone, who attended both the public hearing on Monday and the committee meeting on Friday, also urged the committee to retain the terminology.
“I think not necessarily everyone has the same view on it, but if you are going to come to it culturally, I can give plenty of examples, I personally in my experience would consider it a plague,” Jarvis said, “Maybe it is not taken that way for everyone in the community but I think for certain community members, they would absolutely consider it that.”
After the meeting, Jarvis said she believes the new plan is an improvement on the original but wants to see an addition that ensures minorities are included in the process moving forward.
“There was a section about talking to the public about how minorities are treated but why aren’t you talking to minorities,” Jarvis said, “I don’t know if it belongs in this reform because that is not what it is about but I do think some of the practices they are considering, someone needs to sit down and talk.”
According to Jarvis, she was glad the village responded to the public outcry instead of ignoring it or paying it lip service.
“Honestly I thought they would just change a couple of words but they took out whole sections and I think that was the right thing to do,” Jarvis said, “Hopefully they go through with what is said, so I think the next step is how it is addressed, how their plans are going to take shape and if proper training is taken serious.”
Dumas said she hopes the conversation sparked by the reform process continues in the village.
The village needs to submit its report to the state by Thursday, April 1.
“Even though we get to a point, we don’t want to stop these conversations,” Dumas said.
Schumacher said she agrees with Dumas.
“I’m glad you said that and Chief Premo has said that numerous times as well,” Schumacher said, “I do realize, and many do, that this is a starting point but it is just important for people to be heard, for full transparency, for people to give input, and to do this as a community.”
According to Dumas, individuals can call the village office Monday morning, or email the village over the weekend, listing an email address tab on the village’s website.
Draft five of the plan was discussed at Friday’s meeting.
Draft Six is available for public viewing on the village’s website.
At Monday’s public hearing, the majority of public comments were critical of Martin and the initial draft of the village’s police reform report.
Boyce Sherwin, a resident, referred to the report as a disgrace and Thomas Soucia, a public defender, called it disgusting.
Outside of Friday’s meeting a group of protestors expressed their frustration with the village’s original plan.
According to a protest organizer, Teresa Veramendi, protestors included representatives from the North Country Poor People’s Campaign and Black Lives Matter from Potsdam.
Martin was not in attendance at Friday’s meeting and declined previous inquires to comment on the report he authored, in addition to declining to comment after Monday’s public hearing, which he attended.