December 2, 2021

Police reforms in offing

Common Council hears presentation on possible changes

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Cortland police Lt. David Guerrera works in his office Tuesday. A presentation on reforming police procedures was given to Cortland Common Council on Tuesday in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of last year and the state’s Executive Order 203 ordering police reforms.

Cortland’s police reforms could include time requirements for community policing and mandatory community surveys, shows a presentation Tuesday at the Cortland Common Council as part of a state-ordered reform process for all police agencies.

Potential reforms include:

  • Having officers who are on road patrol walk for 20 minutes every two hours.
  • Developing clear guidelines for the hiring process that reinforces qualities the community expects.
  • Having the department do a community survey no less than every four years to review effectiveness.

These recommendations came out of meetings with city leaders and residents, including Black Lives Matter activists, Mayor Brian Tobin, Police Chief F. Michael Catalano and Deputy Police Chief Paul Sandy, said Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward).

The recommendations follow Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 in June requiring all law enforcement agencies to review their policies and come up with a plan for changes by April or lose state funding.

Cuomo signed the order following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe.

Following an overview of the recommendations, council members asked questions.

Alderwoman Kat McCarthy (D-1st Ward) questioned the wording and intent of a subsection regarding police performance and review. The subsection specifically stated it could consider whether force could have been used in incidents.

Tobin said it would be about situations where force wasn’t used when it could have been used as a means for de-escalation.

Alderman William Carpenter (D-6th Ward), a retired city police officer, asked about how practical it will be having police officers walk the streets for 20 minutes of their shifts due to the limited number of officers on patrol and increased calls.

Catalano said the policy will be encouraged but could be modified.

Tytler added that it can be a point of emphasis and that officers can take advantage of it when they have time.

Tobin said these recommendations are not the final draft and that more detail will be added.

The list would be added to the city’s website following the meeting.

Tobin said he hoped the council could vote on adopting the recommendations at either the March 2 or March 16 Common Council meetings.

“What we are consistently trying to do is push our department” beyond the practices already being followed, Tobin said. “It’s not just where we’re at today. It’s where we want to be.”