City hits ‘pause’ on Right to Know Act

By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Posted 1/27/21

A public hearing on Executive Order 203 was held on Monday, January 25 during the City Council meeting, where members of the community largely commented on the city’s Right to Know Act and a …

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City hits ‘pause’ on Right to Know Act

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A public hearing on Executive Order 203 was held on Monday, January 25 during the City Council meeting, where members of the community largely commented on the city’s Right to Know Act and a call for additional community and police events.

What should have been a “simple legislation,” according to councilwoman Karen Mejia, was changed into something else. The Right to Know Act, which mandates police officers to identify themselves to the person they’re arresting with a business card, was adopted on July 13, 2020. The local law was then enacted within 90 days. At the Executive Order 203 meetings, there were further discussions on the act, according to a timeline displayed by City Manager Joseph Donat at the council meeting. On November 9, the police department planned to start issuing identification cards shortly thereafter.

However, things have been put on a pause due to concerns that the Right to Know Act would be used to collect information from the person being arrested, instead of the person being arrested learning the officers name and badge number.

“It was brought to my attention over the weekend that there are some concerns currently,” said Donat. “I understand that there are some concerns out there regarding the information that is being requested of the community when they interact with the police.”

Donat suggested a police identification card that only includes the name of the officer and date of time of the incident.

“The reason other information was being requested was for us to keep diligent records of the interactions,” said Donat. “Nonetheless, I understand the concerns out there. This is tabled for the moment.”

There were a total of 23 people who signed up for Monday’s public comment period, with a majority touching on the Right to Know Act.

“I listened to the recent work session of the reinvention and reform collaborative as they discuss plans as they respond to the governor’s executive order,” said Shannon Wong, director of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “I understood the [police] chief said the community wants to know who’s stopped, where they’re stopped and why they’re stopped. I believe the community is looking for demographic data, not information on specific individuals. That is reasonable information to want, but the method of achieving that through the field activity sheet is really not okay.”

“The Right to Know Act is intended to give the community information, not to collect information from the community,” Wong continued.

Speaker Aura Lopez Zarate stated that she believes the business cards should be pre-printed with information so that illegible handwriting is not an issue. Holly Moyseenko suggested that the cards are not only in English but in Spanish and Haitian Creole as well.

“It was supposed to be a very simple legislation,” said Mejia. “It was simply supposed to be the handing out of a business card. How it got co-mingled with the request for data – it’s a mystery to me. I’m happy folks now understand that’s not the best route to go. It’s not what the intent of the law was.”

Mejia, to which councilwoman Ramona Monteverde agreed, said she feels like the discussion about the Right to Know Act is due to the lack of communication between everyone.

“We don’t connect enough with each other and say does this make sense, does this not make sense,” said Mejia. “I’m hoping the executive order 203 committee continues to set out the work they’re set out to do.”

Other speakers called for more police community involvement.

“As a youngin, as a 17-year-old, I think we need more activities and police activities with the kids and more activities in the world,” said Tionna Lawrence. “I think that’s what’s right.”

Moyseenko echoed the same sentiment, calling for the police officers to show up as “real people” with community involvement events.

Other speakers at Monday’s council meeting discussed their specific concerns and situations with police officers. Additionally, two speakers made requests to see if individuals from the Newburgh Police Department, or any elected official, were either involved in the Capitol riots in early January or support white supremacy.

“I’d personally love to see a social media review of all of the officers who work in the City of Newburgh, any government employed personal for that matter, to check for involvement in white supremacist terrorist organizations, and or for involvement in what happened at the Capitol,” said Maria Ramirez.

The public hearing kicked off with a presentation by Pastors Omed Almeyda and Jeff Woody, of a draft plan, with 13 items and initiatives, from the Executive Order 203 Oversight Committee. To read the full plan, visit the City of Newburgh’s website. The draft plan will undergo further changes and will not be done until the council votes on a final plan by the April 1, 2021 deadline.

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