At the Town of Shawangunk Police Reform and Reinvention Committee public comment session on Feb. 11 the committee announced that the town is among the safest in both the state and the country.
Safewise.com ranked Shawangunk as the 14th safest city in the state and the 48th safest city in the country in their 2017 Safest Cities annual report. The Uniform Crime Reporting program confirmed that the town has a violent crime rate of .14 per 1,000 and a property crime rate of .56 per 1,000.
Data compiled by the committee supports the town being named among the safest in the nation. In 2020 there were only six burglary cases, one robbery case and two instances of rape. The department only responded to six drug overdoses, five of which were non-fatal.
Residents seem to be satisfied with the job of the police department, as only one complaint has been filed against an officer in the past three years. The complaint was regarding a social media policy violation. Margot Hanstein, a committee member and attorney with the Ulster County Public Defender’s Office, was impressed with the town’s police department.
“I have worked with a lot of the agencies in this county and I have to say that the numbers for this police agency are pretty phenomenal...,” she said. “I’ve also never heard any complaints about this police agency.”
Though crime is very low, the committee still believes the department has room for growth. As per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, the committee is reforming all of the department’s policies and procedures including use of force, civil disorders, internal affairs, community relations and several others. The group is also asking the community for feedback in order to improve the department.
Both Hanstein and Adrienne Gelfand-Perine, chairperson of the Town of Shawangunk Democrats, recommended that the department purchase both body cameras and car cameras for the department. Richard Barnhart, former head of campus police at SUNY New Paltz and a committee member, noted that it is expensive to outfit an agency the size of Shawangunk with these cameras. It would cost them between $40,000 and $60,000.
“We raised $30,000 for a clock, if we need money for cameras, we can raise the money for cameras,” Gelfand-Perine said. “Of course I don’t feel we should do that. We pay taxes and we should get the money from the state or the federal [government].”
Gelfand-Perine added that there are at least three residents who did not report theft on their property in Walker Valley to the police department for fear of retaliation. To combat this issue, she hopes the town will establish a Board of Ethics. In addition, Gelfand-Perine supports a department martial arts program, which the Town of Montgomery Police Department has already adopted.
“The first rule should not be a gun but maybe something physical to restrain someone,” she said.
The committee will hold its next virtual public comment session on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. Information on how to join the meeting can be found on the town’s website (shawangunk.org).
Residents can submit ideas on how to improve the department by emailing email@example.com. They can also log on to the town’s website to fill out the committee’s police reform survey. Residents have until March 8 to fill out the survey.