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A new policy put in place by Kingston's Mayor Steve Noble says that, now, when any use of force is deployed by KPD, it's automatically investigated by the Police Commission. (Kingston is one of the only cities in the Hudson Valley with one.) The board of four civilians and the mayor has regulatory authority and the ability to make policy.
One policy the Police Cosmmission and mayor are interested in passing is the Right to Know Act (RTKA)—an NYCLU initiative to train officers to introduce themselves, end stops that don't end in arrest with a business card, and ultimately allow civilians to ask officers questions during a stop. A draft of the resolution based on Albany's model is making its way through the Kingston Police Commission and Common Council this month. Albany was the first municipality in the state to pass an RTKA, and Noble hopes Kingston will be the second.
This year, racial justice activists have begun to file complaints on older incidents in an effort to raise awareness about the KPD's use of force and to advocate for increased transparency in the Police Commission's processes. They're frustrated with the practice of reviewing complaints in executive session. Because of Section 50-A of state civil service law, the identity of civil service workers, like police officers, is protected during any job performance review. That's currently being challenged through litigation by the NYCLU because it prevents disciplinary actions and the identity of abusive officers from being publicly available.
Effectively, it also means that citizens who make complaints feel harassed and targeted through the process. During Marshall's complaint, he was taken into a conference room without his lawyer, with one witness and two advocates, and questioned by the City of Kingston's lawyer and the Police Commissioners.
Marshall says making his complaint was a hopeful gesture. For the past three years, Marshall has gone to court dates, trial, paid legal fees, and is now appealing a conviction of obstruction of governmental administration. He lost his job, was fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA, and has to do a year of what's akin to probation. "Now I'm in the system," Marshall says.
At the time of this story's writing, Kingston was awaiting the Police Commission's decision on Marshall's complaint, to either find the use of force against Marshall justified or to recommend the officer receive disciplinary action. Marshall hopes for the latter and says, "I need a win somewhere here."
Building TrustOver the past three years, there have been 12 police forums in the City of Kingston, where Chief Egidio Tinti and two different mayors sat down with the community to discuss policing issues. One of the issues often discussed is the length of time it takes to review complaints and video evidence. At a forum in November, the reason given was that people's jobs were on the line. A mother retorted, "My son's life is on the line."
"In order to have community, we need to be able to have dialogue," says Mayor Noble. "In the end, we have to start to trust each other. And I think building trust is hard." Part of that effort is to bolster community policing—the practice of fostering connection between police and the community. Chief Tinti says that over the years, police have gotten away from the walking beat because of an increased call volume. Kingston receives 26,000 calls for service each year. KPD also developed a COP (community-oriented policing) position, where one unit each shift is on foot or bicycle, and also attends community events. But at the last two policing forums, members of the black community invited KPD to the local community centers for kids' activities because they haven't seen COP units there.
"I don't think there's any apprehension on discussing the hard topics," says Chief Tinti. "Whether it's body cameras, transparency, accountability, or the use of force that the officers are trained in, the discussion of implicit bias and racism in law enforcement—I think those are all good topics that we need to have hard talks about. At this point, whether or not there's trust across the table, I think there are lines of communication that are open now that weren't open before."
As for Marshall, he doesn't visit Kingston very often anymore. He moved to Catskill where he finds it peaceful. He likes to swim and hike. "The community isn't trained in how to deal with a hostile police officer coming up to you," Marshall says. "It's not all police officers, but you can't make an excuse for one; all of them have to be accountable."