December 1, 2021

City of Cortland holds first police forum

Cortland’s police department needs more diversity, more community policing officers and more cops walking city neighborhoods, residents said Monday during a virtual forum on reducing racial inequalities in policing.

However, its crisis intervention team and emotionally disturbed persons response team are both praiseworthy, said Andrew Pierce of Clinton Avenue.

“I’m very impressed with the different approach and thought process,” he said, noting police try to determine an underlying issue, rather than simply make an arrest.

The forum was the first of three as part of the city’s effort to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order 203, which asks police departments to review department policies and procedures with an eye toward eliminating racial inequalities.

The executive order was enacted after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and protests that followed in cities across the nation, including Cortland.

However, Apryl Rose said actions like what the crisis intervention team does and the training they have should be better publicized. She wanted to know what training officers had and how often they participate in it.

Resident Kris Behnke suggested the department post information like that on the department’s website.

Chief F. Michael Catalano said the department sends as many officers as it can to training when training is made available. Deputy Chief Paul Sandy added police must undergo some training annually.

Melissa Kiser, a coordinator for Black Lives Matter in Cortland, listed several ideas for the police department and questions from people she knew. One included having all officers have body cameras.

“They understand that’s going to come with costs,” she said. “Everybody’s understanding that body cams aren’t 100% accurate or efficient, but they’re better than nothing and it’s all in the interest of having accountability.”Other ideas included addressing whether officers on the crisis intervention team should be armed.

More diversity in the department also became a topic of discussion.

“I think that’s a very important thing,” Behnke said.


Next city meetings

When: 4:30-6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 or 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 3

To attend: Join Zoom using meeting code: 892 739 1872

Sheriff’s forum

The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department has also announced it will have a public forum, 6 p.m. Dec. 1.

To attend:

  • Cortland County Legislature Committee of the Whole
  • Website: https://tinyurl.com/yxqkwrno, meeting No. 173 246 1930, password: j7Ntw3BjhP6 cbb0e9f1598a42a7a441abdd059a9299
  • Video System: Dial 1732461930@cortlandny.webex.com or 173.243.2.68 and enter your meeting number.
  • Phone:1-415-655-0001, access code: 173 246 1930

Catalano said the department’s hiring comes from a list of people who have passed the civil service exam, which has only gotten shorter over the last several years. Sandy said the department has tried many different recruiting efforts, including participating in a job fair at SUNY Cortland, with no avail.

Behnke suggested the department look at having a Junior Police Academy geared toward trying to get more Black people involved.

Pierce also asked what the standards are for installing cameras in the city and whether an investment should be made to put them in neighborhoods.

When the program started it was initially to keep an eye on the downtown area, Catalano said. Adding cameras elsewhere comes with added costs, lack of infrastructure and concerns about privacy, Sandy added.

Angela Gellatly moved to Cortland last summer and said she would like to see more officers walking around neighborhoods, not just driving.

“I think it would be good to just kind of be around walking around on occasion,” she said, so police would get to know residents.

Catalano said foot patrols can be a challenge because of staffing and call volume. That’s one reason fewer officers go on bike patrols, Sandy added.

Steve Williams, who lives in Homer, but works in Cortland, said that if the police department wants to be known for its community policing efforts, it shouldn’t just have one community-oriented policing officer and everyone in the department should have that mindset.

“One face shouldn’t represent all of the community-friendly side of the entire force,” he said.

The city will have two more forums in the coming weeks and put out a questionnaire to a random group of residents soon, Mayor Brian Tobin said.