In the midst of recent protests against police brutality, the City of Newburgh held a public hearing at last Monday’s city council meeting to discuss relocating $80,000 of Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] money for park improvements to city police for community policing and neighborhood services.
“I don’t feel like it’s right for the community, for you guys to vote on something from the park,” said Isaiah Valentine, resident. “To take money out of the park and give it to the fire department and police department. I really feel like you guys should defund the police department, because of all the things they been doing in our community and it needs to stop.”
Multiple residents participated in the public hearing.
“Such a decision [an increase to the law enforcement budget] would put Newburgh incredibly out of step with the social movement we are in and its needs of the residents,” said Gabriel Berlin, Chair of the Newburgh Transportation Advisory Committee. Berlin mentioned examples of other cities reducing police department budgets.
“As chair of the transportation committee of Newburgh, I can assure you that our streets and sidewalks in and around our city parks are in desperate need of funds,” said Berlin. He said that if necessary, the funding should be relocated to other areas like housing.
“Now is simply not the time to be increasing funding for any police program, especially not at the expense of the many underfunded items across our community,” said Berlin.
During the hearing, a group of residents and activists held a demonstration in front of the Newburgh City Courthouse.
The demonstration was organized by the Nu Voters Movement, Community Voices Heard, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, and others.
The group had demands specific to the city. The demands included passing the Right to Know Act. The Right to Know Act requires officers to give out business cards when interacting with a community member.
“This is so simple and it’s just plain common sense,” said Ann Sullivan, Hudson Valley Civic Engagement Coordinator. “It should have really been done several months ago.”
Councilman Omari Shakur mentioned the Right to Know Act during new business at last Monday’s council meeting. He asked about the progress on the act being passed.
Mayor Torrance Harvey said that Michelle Kelson, Corporation Counsel, is working on the resolution for the legislation. The council is expected to discuss the legislation at the next July work session. He also said he supports the legislation.
The second demand is the council passing a resolution that would repeal the provision of state law known as 50-A. This provision is controversial because it blocks the public from being able to access the records of law enforcement.
The third demand is a meeting with City Manager Joe Donat by June 19. The meeting would go over the discussion and creation of a community process for choosing the next police chief.
Former City of Newburgh Police Chief Doug Solomon resigned back in May. His resignation came after the controversial shooting of 26-year-old Tyrell Fincher. There is no confirmed link between the shooting and his resignation.
Donat said he first heard about the demands on the evening of the demonstration. He said he spoke with the organizing groups over the phone last Tuesday. Due to COVID-19 restrictions he plans to meet with activists from the groups in a meeting of less than 10 people this week. He plans to introduce activists to a potential police chief applicant at this meeting.
The fourth demand is that all police officers go through “Implicit Bias and Undoing Racism” training by September 1.
The fifth demand is that any state or county troopers working in the city, must be paired up with a Newburgh officer wearing a body camera.
The sixth demand is in the case of an incident between a police officer and resident, body camera footage must be released within 72 hours.
The seventh demand is the adoption of the Police Accountability Act. This legislation creates a police commission representative of the community with the power and authority to investigate and adjudicate complaints.
In the current climate, there have been increased calls across the nation for stronger sensitivity training and diversity in law enforcement. While some departments struggle with diversity, the City of Newburgh has a relatively diverse police department.
When it comes to sworn personnel of the police department in the City of Newburgh, 41.6 percent of rank and file officers are black, Hispanic or female. Out of sworn personnel, 33.3 percent of rank and file officers are black or hispanic.
When it comes to all employees of the police department, 49.4 percent are black, Hispanic or female; 35 percent of all employees are black or Hispanic. Employees include officers, dispatchers, and administrative staff.
“I’m proud of each one of those figures,” said Donat last Friday on the phone. “We certainly have a very diverse department. As we move forward, we will continue to increase diversity.”