Police Chief Crooks Criticizes Police Reform Task Force

[JK: I have tried to incorporate pages from Chief Crooks report and questionnaire into this post. Due to technical issues, I could not manage the type size of the text so these pages may be difficult to read, depending upon the device you use. With that in mind, I have provided a link to the full report.]

Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks has written to the City Council expressing his concern about the lack of adequate outreach to “stakeholders” by the Saratoga Springs Police Review and Reinvention Task Force (SSPRRTF).

In his letter he highlights text from Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 in support of his concern.

In his letter he asserts “…that the task force declined to meet with key stakeholders defined in the governor’s executive order such as the DA’s office or the Public Defender’s office stating that the Council can do it. I took it upon myself to reach out to the DA’s office, the Public Defender’s office and members of our downtown area community.” Chief Crooks writes that he identified thirty stakeholder groups from whom he sought responses. He notes that while some responded fully in writing, others spoke to him, while others did not respond at all. His cover letter, his report, and the responses to his questionnaires can be found here.

The letter identifies a number of items where the responses to his survey conflicted with the findings in the SSPRRTF report.

  1. He contrasted the SSPRRTF document that asserted “Very worried about over policing in certain (BIPOC and/or lower income) communities – esp. Geyser Crest” with statements from the president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association where Geyser Crest is located, who advocated for “additional patrols including a substation.”
  2. He noted that the SSPRRTF included a comment from their survey that advocated for the elimination of mounted police who were characterized as threatening while a response to his questionnaire from the president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association described the same mounted police as enthusiastically embraced by children in her neighborhood.
  3. He referenced the SSPRRTF allegation that claimed “…over policing of people of color, youth, and low-income residents (statistical in-city data over multiple years supports this notion).” He noted that the SSPRRTF offered no supporting data and that the police department did not keep records regarding the income status of people arrested.

Taking The Time To Learn About Our Police Department

Chief Crooks has crafted an extensive report exploring a number of key dimensions of the police department. Wherever you stand on the recent controversies, engagement seems key to making better decisions. With that in mind I strongly urge readers to take the time to read his report which begins on page 4 with this:

The report goes into considerable detail describing the different specialties of the city’s police officers (K9, horse, traffic, etc.) along with where, how, and when they are deployed (beginning on page 8). Below I have extracted from the report a number of items but the report, including the appendixes are worth the read.

Use of Force and De-Escalation

Procedural Justice & Bias

This section discusses how complaints regarding police personnel are handled

The Stakeholder Questions

The report includes responses to police chief Crooks’ questionnaire. The responses were not always uncritical.

Terry Diggory is a member of both the Saratoga Immigration Coalition and the Saratoga Springs Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force.

Mr. Diggory is a person of integrity who merits attention.

Mr. Diggory responded to the question, “Do you believe the department should conduct more or less training?” that “The issue is quality, not quantity.”

To “Do you have questions/suggestions about our use of force?” he responded, “Policy should focus more on de-escalation.”

Mr. Diggory had a number of other observations that are worth reading. Most helpful and interesting was input he solicited from LifeWorks (formerly Saratoga County EOC). Christy Nowhitney Hernandez is the deputy director of Lifeworks and works with backstretch workers. The questions she replied to came from Mr. Diggory.

Ms. Hernandez notes that “Based on EOC client reports of interactions with the SSPD, interactions in recent years have been markedly more productive and professional than in previous periods [JK: I expect that the leadership of the current chief of police may have contributed to this].

Ms. Herandez reports on some troubling examples of past interactions with the police regarding immigrants and people of color.

There are additional responses from Paul Ruchames, executive director of BEST (Backstretch Employees Service Team) and Joan Odess, Immigrant Services Manager at EOC. Both of them focused on the need for Spanish speaking translators to assist the police.

Saratoga Casino Hotel On Handling Police Related Issues

The casino questionnaire was quite revealing. They discuss the many difficulties they must deal with given the very large numbers that pass through their facility.

The police do an excellent job in deploying staff to maintain the high standards of safety enjoyed by citizens, businesses, and visitors, but during peak periods of police requests for service, responses are delayed and police time at scene become abreviated leaving bad feelings by those in need.

Questionnaire

The entire questionnaire is quite an eye opener. It makes sense that a casino will face major issues of crime and disorderly behavior. Here is their response:

Summary

It is important to acknowledge the work of the Saratoga Springs Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force. The members of the committee have provided a valuable service to the city in promoting policies that should strengthen our local department. This is particularly noteworthy as they did so with little in the way of professional support services and within a very limited period of time.

It is a testament to the city of Saratoga Springs that it has so many people willing in a variety of ways to demonstrate their concern over the issue of racism and the use of excessive force targeted at people of color in this country.

The struggle for social justice, however, needs to be tempered by a careful, and critical assessment of our own local police.

I am disheartened by the fact that the leadership of the local protests ignores or dismisses the fact that in spite of multiple demonstrations that flaunted the laws of the city to make their point, no one has been injured and I include in that assessment the July 30 event.

The reason that no one has been injured is that Police Chief Shane Crooks actually places the protection of both the protesters, his officers, and the public as the starting point for addressing demonstrations.

A blanket condemnation of our local police only contributes to the excesses and craziness that have erupted across our country.

Police Chief Shane Crooks has demonstrated a willingness to place the use of force in enforcing the law within the context of the basic mission of his department to protect and defend. This kind of leadership should be encouraged if we are to move forward.

This is not to dismiss the merits of a civilian review board (CRB). The design of institutions should not be based on personality. An effectively crafted CRB would contribute to creating a culture of openness and accountability. Currently the public assessment of the police has relied on anecdotal allegations and rumors. All of this has been further tainted by the death of Darryl Mount and the poorly managed investigation following his death.

I am sympathetic to the impatience of many who want to see a CRB approved and implemented today. My fear is that a poorly designed CRB will fail and contribute to greater anger and distrust. As so often is repeated, “the devil is in the details.”

The City Council resolution to adopt a police “reinvention” resolution includes timelines for establishing a committee to research and craft a CRB. This is an important step. I believe that the members of the City Council are operating in good faith in extending the work on a CRB. Time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Police Chief Crooks Criticizes Police Reform Task Force”

  1. I agree with most of John’s summary with the exception of the eighth paragraph. I don’t think that the CRB is a wise choice for Saratoga Springs at this time and under this form of government. I strongly disagree with his assertion that the Daryl Mount investigation was poorly managed. It was a thorough, properly done investigation and the Department was very transparent about the details.

    Chris Mathiesen

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  2. Doesn’t seem like this ex-Commissioner is gonna let go of his opinion about Darryl Mount’s death. Must be eating at him, otherwise why keep bringing it up? His PD Chief Veitch lied, it’s a fact.

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