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Body cameras, mental health and diversity outreach focal points in Rome police's draft reform plan
Observer-Dispatch - 2/10/2021
A committee has released the first draft of proposed reforms for the Rome Police Department.
The city of Rome’s Community Advisory Committee published the 100-page draft proposal last Monday, as part of a statewide executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that municipalities submit reform plans by April 1 or lose funding.
Recommended actions from the 14-member committee made up of police, local religious and business leaders and other community members include introducing body-worn cameras, further work on crisis intervention and increasing diversity in recruitment — specifically among Spanish-speaking individuals.
Rome police Chief Kevin Beach said the draft was put together over the last couple months following meetings among committee members. It will be available for both the public and city common council to review before it is passed as a resolution, he said.
“It’s almost like that draft is kind of a live document,” he said.
Read: City of Rome's Police Reform Draft Plan
While state police have been required to use body worn cameras since this past summer and the Utica Police Department has been using them since 2015, Rome so far has not.
The draft proposal states the city’s committee found body-worn cameras to be a “win-win” situation for city residents and police.
“Not only does that build trust in the community, but you can use it to build trust in a police officer and prevent complaints or false accusations,” Beach said.
The draft proposal states Rome police should continue looking into funding for body-worn cameras, which on estimate would cost $240,000 to $250,000 over the course of a five-year lease.
The draft proposal also stated both diversity and mental training should be furthered in the department.
According to the draft plan, Rome police respond on average to over 300 mental health calls a year. The department currently works with the Neighborhood Center’s Mobile Crisis Assessment Team (MCAT), which offers intervention services that range from a crisis hotline to accompanying law enforcement to an incident.
The draft plan states department-wide mental health training has been scheduled, with further plans to have a “co-response of Rome police personnel and MCAT personnel.”
Beach said it is hoped an MCAT staffer eventually may be able to be stationed in the Rome Police Department, a plan that already is underway in Utica. But MCAT, like Rome police, has limited resources, he said.
More: Coronavirus: In criminal justice, ‘cabin fever’ taxes mental health resources
The city also is still working to recruit Spanish-speaking police officers, he said.
“We have a growing Hispanic population in the city of Rome,” Beach said. “And unfortunately, we lack officers who speak Spanish.”
The draft plan said interpreter services have been available, and officers previously have taken Spanish class and may use Rosetta Stone lessons in the future.
Beach said the department also is reaching out to Latino community leaders and groups such as Maranatha Church in Rome, he said.
“It’s tough recruiting quality individuals who want to be police officers, that’s trending down overall,” he said.
The draft proposal also brought up two past incidents involving the Rome Police Department.
In February 2019, according to the draft, a grievance was filed by the city’s Police Benevolent Agency alleging the police department was using a ticket quota system. In January 2020, an arbitrator ruled that, even though no formal quota policy exists, some watch commanders were expecting a certain number of tickets to be written.
Beach said that command staff was spoken to about the grievance.
“We don’t have quotas, we’ve never had quotas, and it’s not appropriate to make an officer feel they have a quota,” he said staff were told.
The committee also discussed behavior from Rome police online and identifying areas of concern when hiring, “including inappropriate behavior on social media or in their personal lives.”
The draft proposal states candidates for the department must provide access to all their social media. It will be the first time the department has updated its social media policy since 2013, Beach said.
Beach said the document references demonstrations that were held over an officer’s posts on Facebook, but declined to elaborate on what he said was an internal investigation.
H. Rose Schneider is the public safety reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. For unlimited access to her stories, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Email Rose at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Body cameras, mental health and diversity outreach focal points in Rome police's draft reform plan
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