October 24, 2021

Police await surveys

Homer chief eager to hear feedback on department

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Rob Garrison, manager of the Homer Men and Boys store on Main street, talks Tuesday afternoon with Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman.

Homer Village Police Chief Robert Pitman said Tuesday he is looking forward to the results of community surveys of the police department’s operation and suggestions to improve the agency.

But his department has already gotten some good reviews.

“I honestly have no concerns with anything that has been going on with the Homer Police Department,” said Melissa Kiser, a leader of the local Black Lives Matter movement. “On behalf of Black Lives Matter, I really do wish that more police departments were modeled the way that Homer has been modeled. It has been a distinct pleasure working with Chief Pitman. … He has been by far the best chief that we have had to work with.”

“I was very pleased to hear that,” said Pitman, who was hired as chief in 2016 after his predecessor Mark Helm was elected Cortland County sheriff.

Pitman gave an hour-long presentation Monday on his department’s history, staffing, training and other matters, followed by questions and comments from observers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in June requiring local police agencies to review their operations and propose reforms by April 1 in the aftermath of protests nationwide including some in the greater Cortland area — after George Floyd was choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest.

Pitman said he has already made improvements in hiring and training policies and he was looking forward to the results of surveys of residents and Homer school students. He encouraged residents to respond to the survey by the March 1 deadline.

“We will see what the residents want,” Pitman said.

He noted that the training program for village police officers, which was revamped in 2019, emphasizes community policing and treating people fairly and with respect.

“That is what I want to impose on our new recruits,” he said.

Since last summer, a village working group has met almost every week to create a police reform plan, Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe said Monday. The Board of Trustees plans to complete a proposal by its next meeting. Comments will then be accepted for a week and changes made, if necessary, in advance of a vote by the board at its second monthly meeting in March.

Pitman said meetings with the school board and business leaders are also planned.

The village of Homer has 3,123 residents, according to 2019 U.S. Census data. The population is 97.5% white, with 0.1% percent black or African American, and 0.9% Hispanic or Latino. The largest minority group is Asian, which represent 2.4% of the population.

Pitman emphasized the importance of connecting police and residents. He said the conversations can lead to changes, large and small.

He recalled a conversation a couple of weeks ago with Rob Garrison, manager of Homer Men and Boys Store on South Main Street. Garrison was talking about getting rid of some older clothing when a suggestion by Pitman led to a donation to the Wishing Wellness Center in Cortland.