Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol, Utica Chief of Police Mark Williams, and Rome Chief of Police Kevin Beach spoke in a webinar about law enforcement reform on Nov. 11. The event, which was moderated by former Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler and Utica College Director of Campus Safety Musco Millner, was the final installment of an eight-part series on racial justice sponsored by the Levitt Center Law and Justice Lab.
The three officers provided some background about their respective departments before speaking to the demands of the police reform legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in June of this year. Beach recalled the advice of former Hamilton student Peter Maher ’13, who proposed what became their Community Impact Unit, a team of officers who deal with “quality of life issues” in ways that make them visible and accessible to Rome residents. Local involvement is a priority for Beach, who said that “we encourage our officers to get out there — coach, referee youth sports — and just really be a part of the community.”
In response to Cuomo’s reform legislation, the Rome Police Department established a review committee consisting of 13 members, which Beach described as a “diverse group.” This committee has been evaluating current policies and procedures and considering potential areas of reform. “I believe that with cooperation from the public, and with open and honest dialogue, we can improve our relations, and I look forward to a brighter future,” Beach said.
A similar committee was also created in Utica. The trouble there, noted Williams, has been that many of the meetings are spent going over the department’s basic policies and procedures. “What we find is you can’t offer constructive police reform recommendations if you don’t know about your police department,” he said.
Despite this setback, Williams seemed optimistic about the current standing of the Utica Police Department. He pointed out that, to the best of his knowledge, they are the only police department in the state to make officer personnel files publicly available online. Additional policies touted by Williams are the department’s “robust” complaint system and their faithful examination of all cases involving the use of force.
Along with the other two agencies represented in the webinar, the Sheriff’s Office is one of three state-accredited police departments in Oneida County. Maciol characterized this accreditation as requiring “the highest standards set forth by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.”
Going forward, Maciol said that “we need to do a better job when it comes to diversifying our workforce,” a process that he recognized as complicated and challenging. Nevertheless, he identified diversity as an area in which almost all police departments could improve.
As usual, Wednesday’s event featured another musical interlude courtesy of Hamilton Professor “Doc” Woods. This week, Woods shared Kim Burrell’s performance of “Be Grateful,” which he described as a powerful expression of gratitude and forgiveness. “When people of color send out that forgiveness, no matter how deeply we’ve been wronged, it puts something out into the atmosphere that at least presents an opportunity for healing in our nation,” Woods said.