On May 13, the City of Newburgh Police Department announced a joint law enforcement operation involving the New York State Police, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County District Attorney, and the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force.
The joint law enforcement operation emerged after the ShotSpotter system picked up 55 gunshots on the weekend of May 3. In 2020, the City of Newburgh Police Department responded to 88 calls for service related to shots fired, an increase of 63 percent from 2019.
Additionally, there were significant complaints and concerns over large groups loitering in neighborhoods. The joint law enforcement operation is one of the city’s many attempts to reduce gun violence in the city.
Still, the announcement has caused mixed reactions. Many people have viewed the joint policing efforts in a less than favorable manner.
This past weekend, Councilman Omari Shakur posted multiple Facebook live videos displaying controversial interactions with officers. In each video, there is an evident heavy law enforcement presence in various spots of the city. Residents are also seen videotaping, and arguing with officers.
In one interaction, Shakur is seen getting ticketed for backing out of a space on Broadway, and a failure to properly signal when turning.
“We were giving out masks and gloves and I started getting phone calls, and people were talking about their kids being stopped by police with no masks [on],” said Shakur on Monday afternoon. “We started video taping. Basically we started videotaping all of these interactions with all of these police with no masks arresting people with no cause, and releasing them back into our communities.”
“We have numerous violations of people’s lives.”
Shakur is vehemently against the joint enforcement efforts.
“They said this was because of 55 gunshots on First St,” said Shakur “But they’re going through a whole city. They’re stopping people, throwing people on the ground. They stopped an old man, he had a bottle of beer.”
Although he agrees there is a problem with gun violence, he doesn’t believe the heavy law enforcement presence throughout the city should be necessary. He believes having more foot patrol in gunshot hot spots is a better option.
On Monday morning, the City of Newburgh Police Department released a statement addressing Shakur’s Facebook live videos.
“Councilman Shakur’s behavior and antics are reckless, irresponsible, and juvenile,” said Lt. Kevin Lahar, current officer-in-charge.
“He continues to provide false statements and inaccurate facts to our community. The City of Newburgh Police Department and our law enforcement partners will not allow Councilman Shakur to deter our focus or impede our lawful duties as we work towards reducing gun violence and improving the quality of life for our residents,” finished Lahar.
Speaking over the phone, Shakur seemed befuddled by the statement.
“This is what they said, but what was going on,” said Shakur. “Have you looked at the numbers? How many people were they [law officials] interacting with? How many guns they got?”
Shakur said that he and his supporters videotaped seven different interactions where officers with no masks, were interacting with children in the community.
When asked about concerns over officers not wearing face masks, the police department declined to comment.
“We are not releasing any additional statements or information related to Councilman Shakur,” said Lahar over email.
Shakur also expressed concern over alleged police brutality.
“We are looking for police to serve and protect our community, not come here and put guns in people’s faces and drag them out of cars,” said Shakur.
“We had two women get out of the car, one was pregnant. They [law enforcement] threw them on the ground and then they made them lift up their shirts and pull their breasts out and see if they had anything.”
“Is that police work?” asked Shakur. “Would you want police to do that to you?”
Shakur said that he hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss the specifics of the joint policing efforts with other councilmembers. He said that he would like to see more regulations implemented for law enforcement.
He’d like body cameras, and face masks on officers at all times. Shakur also wants the Right to Know Act implemented in Newburgh. The Right to Know Act consists of two laws, and has already been implemented in New York City. The first law is the Consent to Search Law; officers who don’t have legal justification to search someone must have one’s consent before searching them.
The second law is the ID law which requires that officers tell someone their name, rank, command, and the reason they are stopping you. At the end of the interaction, if you aren’t given a summons or arrested, the officer should give you a business card that has their information.
Shakur also criticized lack of action from his fellow government officials.
“When they’re running for office, they’re out there 24 hours trying to get people’s attention,” said Shakur. “But now in a time of crisis when people are looking for leadership and looking for explanations, nobody’s out here. I’m the only one out here observing and recording our interactions with the police squad. I’m the only one out here providing leadership with our community. Nobody has said anything. We haven’t seen our mayor.”
Mayor Torrance Harvey made a lengthy post on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
“Fifty-five gun shots made our city blocks hot,” Harvey wrote. “Fifty-five gun shots in one weekend throughout our city terrorized families and children throughout our city! Children crawling up under their beds hearing gun shots during a coronavirus in fear of a stray bullet is horrible. These gun shots put our city on a federal watchlist for gun violence.”
The mayor said public safety was still the number one priority and urged residents to stay inside during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Please don’t allow certain individuals to feed you a false narrative that divide our community,” he added.