Tupper police review seeks a few changes

From left, Tupper Lake Middle-High School Principal Russ Bartlett, school resource officer Sgt. Geoffrey Carmichael, Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan, Tupper Lake Police Department Chief Eric Proulx, SRO and former police chief Tom Fee, TLCSD Director of Special Programs Matt Southwick and L.P. Quinn Elementary School Principal Michele Pinard stand outside the elementary school after their first meeting about the SROs’ first week at the school in September 2019. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — This village’s police review committee draft report, released Tuesday, recommends to increase officer training, adopt an anti-discrimination policy and use mental health professionals more, all while keeping the core of the police department’s practices the same as it has been.

A public hearing on this report will be held on a Monday later this month, either March 22 or 29, according to village Mayor and committee member Paul Maroun. The village board will then hold a special meeting to adopt the plan before the state’s April 1 deadline. The date, time and call-in information for this meeting will be decided soon, he said.

Tupper Lake Police Department Chief Eric Proux said the review process went “smoothly,” in his view.

“I’m happy with the report,” Proulx said. “It doesn’t drastically change my operating procedure. The feedback from the community was all positive.”

“We don’t see a lot of issues like Rochester or Utica or Buffalo does,” Maroun said. “Maybe a handful of complaints in the past 10 or 15 years.”

Communities around New York are conducting these reviews and revisions of police policy after an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June following protests over several well-documented killings of Black people by police last year.

Asked if there is a systemic racism problem in policing, nationwide or locally, Proulx said he would not speak about other departments but that there is not a problem in Tupper Lake.

“I don’t know what other police agencies do across the country. I don’t work in a city. I don’t work in an area where there is a large population of different races of people,” Proulx said. “In my 20 years as an officer of the police department and eight years as the chief, I don’t know of any complaints I could tell you centered around someone’s racial bias.”

He said the TLPD’s arrest data does not show any racial bias.

In the draft report, the police review committee recommends the department formally adopt the village’s anti-discrimination statement as police policy; expand yearly deescalation, use of force and diversity training sessions; establish an annual review committee to assess department policies; and get mental health professionals involved in more drug- and mental health-related calls.

Discrimination policy

The report suggests the department formally adopt an anti-discrimination policy based on a statement Maroun wrote for the village last year.

“There is to be no discrimination by, for, or to anyone or any group: by race, creed, color or sexual orientation (LGBTQ, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning),” the draft policy states. “This applies to the hiring of police officers or the arrest of suspects.”

Use of force

The department’s general use of force policy says officers should only use the amount of force necessary for law enforcement purposes.

“Deadly force should only be used in the most extreme situations,” the report says. “It may be used when an officer is protecting him/herself or a citizen from imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

The policy says a verbal warning of this force should be given first, if possible.

While the department bans chokeholds, which restrict airways, it does allow carotid control holds — applying pressure to the sides of the neck, restricting blood flow to the brain.

Carotid holds are used to subdue individuals, but if done improperly they can be fatal.

Proulx said these are meant to be used as a “last resort” and are allowable under New York law. He said unlike other departments, his officers work alone and he believes they need techniques like carotid holds in certain circumstances.

“Police officers must be protected while protecting our citizenry,” the report says.

Force that is allowed — less-than-lethal and deadly force — is regulated by policies the department has written with the police consulting company Lexipol over the past three years.

The report suggests the village hold an annual review of TLPD policies and practices. If approved, the mayor would select members for this committee and they would meet with the police chief to review policies and practices.

Training and mental health

The report suggests annual training for officers in community relations, cultural diversity and bias-related incidents, defensive tactics, deescalation techniques, use of force, firearms re-qualification, and reality-based simulation.

The reports says the village will explore requiring officer candidates to undergo a psychological examination before hiring them.

The report says Franklin County Community Services Director and Mental Health Advisor Suzanne Lavigne is “an integral part of assistance to the (TLPD).”

The department says it is working with Lavigne to bring county mental health professionals on calls better served by a counselor than law enforcement.

“This may involve joint responses to calls for service with a police officer and a mental health counselor present,” the report says.

Maroun said the importance of these programs is growing in Tupper Lake and nationwide. He said he would like the village to work closer with Lavigne and the county’s mental health services in the future.

There are also plans for Lavigne to provide annual training for all department members on mental health awareness, defusing confrontational situations and interacting with suicidal individuals.

The report says the Tupper Lake is affected by the ongoing national opioid crisis and that officers are trained in administering naloxone to someone suffering an overdose. Maroun said he would also like to work closer with St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center, based in Saranac Lake, on addiction issues.

Existing policies

Several controversial use-of-force and investigative tactics are already prohibited.

According to the report, TLPD prohibits retaliatory force, does not have quota requirements and does not allow traffic stops for the purpose of searching for evidence of a crime. It says it does not practice stop and frisk, adding that “this type of practice has been shown through national research to disproportionately affect black and poor communities.” It also does not subscribe to the “broken window” theory of policing, which involves ticketing every violation, no matter how small.

Officers carry tasers and pepper spray, with policies regulating their use. A verbal warning is required for the use of tasers. Tasers are only issued to officers trained to use them.

The Tupper Lake Police Department does not use spit hoods, which came under scrutiny when one was used by the Rochester Police Department last year in the death of Daniel Prude, an unarmed Black man.

All officers are required to wear body cameras, with policy regulating their use. Proulx has in the past spoken highly of this practice and said he believes filming interactions keeps both the public and officers safe. But when cameras break, the report says the department cannot always afford new ones immediately, so at certain times an officer may not have a camera. The report says the department keeps a few backup cameras on hand.

Local focus

Maroun said this report is a very Tupper Lake-focused review, adding that he believes the department’s practices have been just fine.

This committee’s suggestions are not as extensive as the Saranac Lake committee’s — which included a new Counselor and Law Enforcement Partnership program and establishing a public-police interface committee.

This review mostly focused on minor improvements to the department’s practices, additional training and amending policies.

“In reality, some subject areas are working well and need not be altered at this time,” the report says. “Ongoing monitoring is the norm. Additional discussion and change will occur as deemed necessary. … (Policing) is not the simple task of days gone by. There are bad elements in our society. We must continually learn through education and updated awareness. That is the mission we shall strive for. Our plans are not set in stone!”

The TLPD has several programs other departments in this area do not, such as body cameras, a K-9 unit and two school resource officers. Maroun said the SRO program, which has an officer embedded in the elementary school and high school, has received “rave reviews.”

He said the K-9 program works well, though he is “scared to death of the dog.”

Maroun said the major feedback he has received from the community through this review process has been people asking for more police foot patrols on popular streets.

According to the report, policing a rural area means officers hold unconventional roles in their jobs.

Outside of regular police duties of responding to motor vehicle accidents, domestic disputes and traffic violations, the report says they also check that downtown business doors are locked every night, administer emergency health or overdose aid, and help motorists who run out of gas.

They also are the only after-hours contact for the village public works, electric and water and sewer departments during nighttime hours.

“The Tupper Lake Police Department is viewed by the community as ambassadors, for the most part. Arrests must and do occur,” the report says. “However, Tupper Lake Police go out of their way to assist residents and guests in matters not of a criminal nature.”

According to the report, the department’s eight full-time officers and three part-time officers serve 4,000 village residents, 2,300 additional residents of the town of Tupper Lake and in the summer months as many as 12,000 seasonal and full-time residents.


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