Citizen’s police committee: Our 2022 in review

Last year, the Citizen’s Police Interface Committee, a public committee formed by the village of Saranac Lake to take public comments on local policing, met with members of the public at the farmers market and held listening session at locations around the village. We were able to interact and listen to many of our citizens and discuss local policing matters important to them. We would sincerely like to thank those of you took the time to talk to us, give your opinions and share your stories. We enjoyed talking to each one of you.

Since then, the committee worked to collate the many pages of notes from the comments and stories we heard at the farmers market and listening sessions. The committee will begin reaching out to our resources in the community for additional comments and expertise to provide context. The committee will then generate a report on our findings — including recommendations — that it will share with the public, the village, and the Saranac Lake Police Department.

The committee collected comments and stories from approximately 50 people both at the farmers market and from listening sessions at Stewart’s on Bloomingdale Avenue. While many respondents were candid with their comments, some believed that the committee was directly affiliated with or were representing the SLPD, and did not feel comfortable providing candid responses. As a quick summary, the majority of the respondents expressed appreciation for Saranac Lake Police Department and the service they provided; others stated they value policing in general and the SLPD in particular. Another majority opinion that dominated the comments spoke to concerns about the adaptability of the SLPD to respond to the changing needs of the community; especially concerning mental health versus criminal behavior.

The committee’s polling revealed that the majority of interaction between the community and the SLPD were polite and respectful. Despite this overall opinion, many respondents were also concerned about the image of the SLPD in the community. Respondents stated that they would prefer the SLPD take on a “community policing” model, which in their opinion meant officers being more visible in the community vis-a-vis foot patrol, an increased presence on Main Street, and officers being friendly and approachable. Respondents also expressed the opinion that it is important for children to see police officers as people, rather than just powerful authority figures.

Some respondents cited the problems in policing on a national level, specifically police intervention and use of force, for example, but in contrast to those concerns most respondents did not believe those same problems exist within the SLPD. The committee took comments on and engaged in conversations with respondents about broader community issues they felt were related to policing, drug abuse, mental health, domestic violence, and the lack of affordable housing, for example. Some shared specific stories about domestic violence and drug abuse that made them uncomfortable in their homes and neighborhoods. These same respondents acknowledged the SLPD has limited resources to respond to all of those incidents. Mental health was a consistent topic of comments and conversation throughout the process. Many respondents believed that the SLPD is expected to respond to incidents that are often mental health crises, rather than criminal behaviors. Most respondents agreed that while the SLPD do their best, they are not the best first responders to mental health crises.

The committee members fielded questions from respondents who expressed concerns about the mental health and wellness of the officers. This was in response to recent turnover within the department and the shooting at Stewart’s on Bloomingdale Avenue. The committee took questions, comments and had discussions about the shooting. Many respondents wanted to know more about the police response, if it was handled appropriately, and what was the response from local authorities and official.

Finally, the committee fielded questions about the committee, its purpose, who the committee reports to, and ultimately how the information will be used. Most respondents stated that the information collected should be presented to the village and the SLPD, but should also result in actionable and measurable change.

The committee is still taking comments and will continue to do so. We will continue our listening sessions, as well as hold public meetings. If you wish to read the full report you may do so at https://tinyurl.com/52m75kw8. Please email any comments to policeinterface@saranaclakeny.gov.

— — —

Greg Landon wrote this commentary on behalf of the Saranac Lake Citizen’s Police Interface Committee.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today