Dear Honorable Members of City Council,
We offer the following for your consideration in response to Mayor David’s announcement on January 8, 2021 establishing (at this late date) the Binghamton Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Steering Committee as directed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his Executive Order 203 issued last June.
In his Executive Order, Governor Cuomo requires that municipalities review “the needs of the community served by its police agency” and that these discussions “involve the entire community.” We also believe that it is critically important that City of Binghamton officials listen to the entire community as it reforms its approach to community safety — especially those who are most often the victims of bad policing. The Order also states that the process must include “fact based and honest dialogue.” We agree with this as well. And to that end, this letter offers a recent history of police reform efforts in our community, highlights the significant work that has already been done over the past year to engage the community on this topic, and provides a set of proposals for reform that have come from this year-long, community-driven, inclusive effort.
As many of you know, the goal of reforming law enforcement practices is not new. Many of our residents, community leaders, and former elected officials have been working on these issues for almost a decade (and some even longer). In 2015, in response to the growing number of acts of racist police violence nationwide and the need to take proactive steps to improve policing practices, ensure public accountability, and solidify trust between our law enforcement officers and city residents, a group of concerned citizens working together with the Binghamton Human Rights Commission, proposed a piece of legislation called the Police Modernization Law. This legislation was intended to do the following:
- Make racial profiling by law enforcement illegal in the City of Binghamton
- Require the Binghamton Police Department to develop a procedure for tracking, analyzing, and reporting demographic trends related to all vehicular and pedestrian stops by law enforcement. The goal was to identify and remedy any instances of intentional or systemic bias in local law enforcement.
- Require the City of Binghamton to establish ongoing in-service diversity and anti-racism trainings for local law enforcement at all levels.
- Require the City of Binghamton to establish and implement a plan to diversify the police force.
Mayor David chose to undercut those efforts, vilifying both the residents and coalition members who backed the legislation. He then retaliated by disbanding the existing Binghamton Human Rights Commission and pressuring City Council to limit the Commission’s ability to independently review discrimination cases in the future. Then, to provide himself with political cover, he issued his own set of so-called “reforms” through an Executive Order that failed to even mention racial profiling or the numerous instances of police violence against people of color. Instead, he issued an insensitive statement, not only attacking those who sought to reform policing and advance racial justice, but also choosing to focus on several murders of law enforcement officials (each undeniably horrific and tragic) instead of the ongoing epidemic of the murder of people of color by the police. (Note: We intended to provide the link to the Mayor’s own statement and press release, but it appears this administration has recently and inexplicably eliminated the entire archive of Mayor David’s news releases, which is just another example of a troubling pattern by this administration in making City Hall less transparent, not more.)
Given this history, we hope our skepticism of the current effort is understandable. The David administration has a long history of demonstrated animosity toward police reform efforts. Even with this mandate from the Governor, as our nation is finally reckoning with systemic racism and police violence, Mayor David has dragged his feet and done little to inspire confidence. For example, many Mayors across New York showed true leadership on this issue and launched their own local reform panels in August and September–and are months into the process. On the other hand, Binghamton has just now started the process. Because of the Mayor’s delays, our Police Reform Panel will have about only 60 days following their first meeting to engage in an inclusive listening process, discuss current practices, study and debate reforms, develop a plan, solicit community feedback, incorporate community feedback, present a final plan to City Council for approval, and then submit the plan to New York State. With so little time remaining, it is unlikely that a good faith effort to engage the community in the sort of discussion necessary for real systematic information-gathering (and of the sort mandated by Governor Cuomo) is even possible. Again, please allow us a healthy dose of skepticism.
Consequently, we struggle with our decision to participate in what is clearly a flawed process — one that is likely to lead nowhere and provide even more political cover to those who prefer inaction over reform. And we remain significantly concerned about our participation being perceived as validating any plan that fails to address the concerns raised by residents of this community whose voices are traditionally left out of these sorts of forums. Nevertheless, we believe it is necessary that members of the Binghamton Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Steering Committee and our elected city leaders have the opportunity to consider these findings from our year-long effort to solicit input from the local community about the reforms they want to see. We offer this summary with the hope that reading it will make a difference.
A Year-Long Effort at Community Engagement
Over the past year, a series of community conversations have taken place in venues across the City of Binghamton, including Recreation Park, Center City, the Northside, and Webster Street. More than 700 residents responded to questions about Police Accountability and what would make our community safer, reflected on city spending on law enforcement, and brainstormed on other possible places to allocate those funds. Comments and survey data were also collected during the City and County Budget Hearings in October, Juneteenth, and the July 4 Speakout. Results from these community events and the survey data were then compiled into the set of recommendations discussed below.
Proposed Reforms to Ensure Police Accountability
Any plan produced by this committee must demand the equal treatment and respect for the inherent life, liberty, dignity, and worth of all individuals by the police. This requires the following: (1) identifying and eliminating all instances of racial bias in law enforcement; (2) increasing transparency and accountability in policing practices; (3) ending efforts to militarize law enforcement and efforts to acquire military equipment; (4) reviewing, revising, and where needed creating new policies that minimize harm and prohibit the unnecessary use of force by police; and (5) reviewing our law enforcement budgets with the goal of shifting tax dollars to invest in the needs of individuals as part of a systemic, more humane approach to reimagine community safety.
Eliminate Racial Profiling
Racial profiling has been uniformly condemned at the highest levels of government, our legal system, and by our own Police Administration as illegal and unconstitutional, in addition to being inefficient and increasing community distrust. In order to stop the use of racial profiling by law enforcement, this legislative package will mandate the following:
- Restrict the use of race as the primary factor in justifying suspicion of a suspect in criminal investigations.
- Create a process to identify and track incidents of racial profiling.
- Prohibit members of the Binghamton Police Department from working as School Resource Officers in any of the local school districts.
Increase Transparency and Accountability
In order to increase the transparency and accountability of local law enforcement, this legislative package will mandate the following:
- Require that Binghamton Police Department Annual Reports are posted on the City of Binghamton website.
- Require that misconduct records for all members of the Binghamton Police Department be made public by posting them on the City website.
- Waive all fees associated with police records requests.
- Require that Law Enforcement identify themselves and the reason for law enforcement activities during interactions with the public.
- Require that Law Enforcement obtain proof of consent prior to conducting the search of an individual.
- Require that when a search occurs, Law Enforcement provides information on how to submit comments or file complaints about it.
- Establish a Community Oversight Review Board or independent auditor/inspector general to review police misconduct cases and recommend appropriate action
Eliminate Militarization of Law Enforcement and the Acquisition of Military Equipment
There has been a nationwide trend to militarize local law enforcement. Police Departments across the country have outfitted their officers with military grade weapons and equipment. This increases the chances of violent encounters with the public, and it has transformed law enforcement into an occupying military force. This has been accompanied by the expansion of local surveillance. Street cameras and license plate readers have already appeared in predominantly poor communities of color (with plans to roll out facial recognition tools as well), effectively ghettoizing these populations. In order to reverse this trend, this legislative package will mandate the following:
- End surveillance activities by the Binghamton Police Department or other city departments that are not tied to specific criminal investigations.
- Prohibit the City of Binghamton from accepting funds allocated for increasing the militarization of local law enforcement.
Minimize Physical Harm and Unnecessary Use of Force
In order to minimize physical harm and unnecessary use of force by local law enforcement, this legislative package will mandate the following:
- Limit the use of physical force to when it is objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional; when it will effectively and safely resolve a conflict; and only as a last resort to protect life.
- Require that, when force is used, only the lowest level of force, within the range of objectively reasonable force that is necessary, may be employed.
- Require that, prior to use of force, proper de-escalation and effective communication techniques must be used.
- Require that, prior to use of force, law enforcement must determine whether an individual’s failure to comply with an order is the result of a medical, psychological, or cultural factor.
- Prohibit the use of chokeholds, including any tactics that restrict oxygen or blood flow to the head or neck.
- Prohibit the use of force on an individual for insolence, or for running away.
Reinvest in Our Community
In the past six years Binghamton has added 12 additional police officers, which based on the City’s own 2009 report (Commission on Personnel Costs), costs approximately $1.2 Million per year. We believe that reforming policing is only a part of what’s needed to truly reimagine community safety. We must also stop criminalizing individual and social challenges–like addiction, homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues–and invest in alternative approaches that not only are more humane, but have been proven through evidence-based research to actually make our communities safer. Based on the tremendous community feedback garnered through a year-long inclusive engagement process, here are some ways to reimagine community safety that residents felt would be much wiser investments, year over year, than adding 12 additional police officers:
- Hire 20 Mental Health/Substance Use Counselors ($60,000 a counselor)
- Hire 2 Non-police responders/specialists for sexual assault and domestic violence cases ($60,000 per responder)
- Provide re-entry services for 300 people returning from Broome County Jail (Reentry Program $100,000 per year)
- Provide Rent Support Vouchers for 500 families on limited income ($2,400 per family/per year)
- Acquire and/or rehab 24 quality, affordable housing units in partnership with the Community Land Trust ($50,000 per unit)
- Offer grants for 24 Black & Minority Small Businesses (grants up to $50,000/each)
- Provide tablets for online learning to 2400 students (cost $500 per student)
- Fund summer jobs for 300 of our youth (~$4,000 per job)
- Support a City Youth Center (yearly operational expenses $500,000)
- Support a Substance Use Center/Harm Reduction Counseling Center (yearly operational expenses ~$300,000)
- Expand urban garden spaces to accommodate 120 additional households through Vines ($10,000 a community garden site)
- Provide food for 2,000 families through the Farm Share program ($600 for the season)
Finally, many of our recommendations are also included in Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices issued November 2018 by the U.S. Commission on Human Rights, which we highly recommend you read. The report is available here (a summary of findings starts on pg 139): https://docplayer.net/113129307-Police-use-of-force-an-examination-of-modern-policing-practices.html.
We encourage Binghamton residents who support the intent of this letter and many of the recommendations above to please add your signature. We will deliver the full list of signatories to the Panel, Council, and Mayor’s Office in March. DAROC is a coalition of orgs in Broome County, NY working to divest from the carceral state, reinvest in community, and hold police accountable.
- Citizen Action – Southern Tier Chapter at email@example.com
- To the City Commission on Police Reform at BPDcollaborative@cityofbinghamton.com