SARATOGA SPRINGS – Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin is actively seeking citizens charged with representing different segments of the community to form an advisory board that would include members of the city police department.
“I think our police department does a really good job of providing police services, training officers and getting out into the community, but I also recognize there is no human organization that’s perfect, so there’s always room for improvement. One of the ways you can discover where you want to have improvement is to have dialogue with the community,” Martin said.
The idea of forming a board to hold face-to-face dialogue between the police department and the community comes in the aftermath of revived public interest regarding the circumstances involving Darryl Mount, a 21-year-old black man who in late August 2013 suffered injuries that left him in a coma after fleeing police on Caroline Street and allegedly falling off a scaffolding behind The Washington building, which was then under construction. Mount died eight-and-a-half months later. Mount's mother, Patty Jackson, subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit and city Police Chief Greg Veitch has come under public scrutiny following a Times Union last month month which reported the department never conducted an internal probe into police actions, after earlier claiming there was one. Chief Veitch has since posted comments related to the matter on the police department’s Facebook page.
“I can truly understand the grief of a mother who has lost a young son (and) I am certainly aware of and sensitive to the impact of race issues on the interaction of police agencies and municipalities across the United States,” Martin said.
“The recent interest and publicity concerning the Darryl Mount incident of five years ago is certainly the catalyst” for an advisory board, Martin said. There have been public calls for a citizen “review” board, but Martin said, “I do not believe a citizen review board would be beneficial to the city nor its residents,” adding that such panels in some areas have become “overly political” and “rife with controversy,” and citing civilian law enforcement review boards in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Memphis, Tennessee specifically. “If we were to start a (review) board, it would involve changes to the City Charter as well as to the contract with police officers.”
The community “advisory” board being proposed would hold two formal meetings annually at City Hall with the option for additional meetings as warranted regarding issues that are presented.
“My goal is to have a first meeting within a month-and-a-half to two months from now,” Martin said this week. “We’re looking for people who have a desire to really dig in, to learn what police procedures are and why they are, which would involve some reading and study about the rights of policemen, the rights of citizens. So, there would be work involved for those who agree to do it. It’s not just coming in, speaking your mind and going home. This would be a working board.”
Members would work on a volunteer, non-paid basis. The advisory board would include Martin, his deputy commissioner, the police chief and assistant police chief, and approximately nine to eleven civilian members, each representing a different segment of the community.
“One member who represents the youth of the community, one member who represents the unemployed, one member of the working class who resides in the community, one who represents the working class who do not reside but work in the community, at least one member from the minority population, one who represents the elderly. I want to keep the group to a size that is manageable, so I can see some neighborhoods also represented to get the group between nine to eleven,” Martin said.
“I think we’ll be able to get some ideas fully vetted on the table and be able to implement some good ideas, changes that people agree would provide either better policing or better communication,” Martin said.