October 22, 2021

City police hold 3rd forum

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A man walks by the Cortland Police Department in this December 2020 Cortland Standard file photo.

Questions regarding police hiring, bail reform and transparency, among others, were asked and answered during the third and final public forum held by the Cortland Police Department and the city.

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

A plan on any policy changes has to be submitted to the state by April.

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.

Whitney Hargett, a Groton Avenue resident, asked if the police department has considered working with a third-party for hiring.

Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said that can’t be done due to civil service guidelines.

Hargett also asked if the department does “blind” hiring, not knowing specifics about a person’s race and gender, among other characteristics.

Catalano said the department initially just gets a candidate’s name, age, address and phone number, before face-to-face interviews.

Summit Street resident Stephen Shoemaker asked if the department has ways to keep repeat offenders off the street — those who might commit a crime and then be released due to bail reform.

“That’s beyond our capability,” Catalano said. “It’s up to the judge who arraigns the person.”

Paul Mikowski, of Owego Street, said he was glad the discussion was happening and that it was “vitally important” to include people of color in discussions like the forums.

He also said it was important for police officers and White people to examine implicit biases and any ways they may uphold white supremacy.

Resident Danielle Wimbish, of East Main Street, asked if the department had opportunities to provide statistics on its data.

Catalano responded that the department does have an annual report but the suggestion of reporting data more frequently has come up in the past.

Wimbish agreed that could be helpful.

Jesse Abbott, the department’s community oriented policing officer, talked about his position and programs, like Shop with a Cop and Coffee with a Cop. He also responded to a question about members of the public spending a day with police officers. Abbott said the department participates in ride-alongs and has looked into creating a citizens’ police academy — but that requires funding, and his programs are covered by donations

Having held a public meeting, the police department will now wait for responses to a citywide survey sent to residents that includes questions on policing and any suggestions or changes the public may want to see, Catalano said.

Any potential changes will then be brought before Mayor Brian Tobin and the city’s Common Council to discuss implementation.

Tobin said that questions, comments or concerns can still be sent to his office.