At a December meeting of the Poughkeepsie Common Council, members unanimously agreed to put off the decision on whether to approve a new police union contract until next month to allow more time for review.
“We are carefully considering and obtaining advice about the potential legal and practical impact on the City’s police reform-related initiatives of entering into an agreement that extends through December 31, 2025,” wrote Sarah Salem, chair of the Poughkeepsie Common Council, in a Dec. 23 letter to Mayor Rob Rolison.
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, issued earlier this year, requires every municipality to go through a process to examine and consider police reform and reinvention options. The result of that ongoing process, due by April 1, could impact work rules in the police department that may need to be part of the contract.
The proposed deal, negotiated between the Rolison administration and the police union, was forwarded to the council on Oct. 30.
During the council meeting, public comment was generally supportive of the delay, with several speakers referencing the police reform and reinvention process.
“We’re in the middle of Executive Order 203 deliberations and the common council cannot ratify a five-year binding contract until police reform and reinvention has come to fruition,” Brian Robinson, a city resident and member of the End the New Jim Crow Action Network (ENJAN) told the council. “We currently have proposed legislation to establish an effective civilian review board… and we cannot let a collective bargaining agreement interfere with that among much other potential reform.”
“I am glad to hear that the PBA bargaining agreement is not going to come to a vote tonight,” said Matthew Brill-Carlat. “Because that could delay any sort of serious transformational changes until 2026, and I just think that’s kicking the can way too far down the road.”
Speaking in favor of ratifying the agreement was City of Poughkeepsie Police Benevolent Association Vice-President Chris Libolt.
“During these negotiations, we recognized the financial hardship the city faces in 2021 and agreed to a 0% increase for that year,” said Detective Libolt. “Now it is the common council’s turn to do what is right.”
The PBA spokesman characterized local activist groups like ENJAN that are supporting police reform and racial justice as “outsiders”, “non-stakeholders” and “anti-police” intent on pulling the city apart and said the council was succumbing to their pressure.
“To have a white male police officer publicly negate my existence by telling me I’m an outsider, a non-stakeholder, and that I’ve contributed nothing to this community was hurtful but unsurprising,” said Isis Benitez. “This is the exact thing my parents and their parents were told. The reason I do the work I do is so that one day my children can be brought into the world where they will not hear such things.”
“To claim that because we want police practices to be more transparent, to be held accountable for any abuses of their authority, that this is somehow the work of radical outsiders, is deeply offensive to the many of us who live here,” said Katherine Hite. “For the PBA to claim we do nothing for the city is an outrage.”
The police contract will be back on the agenda for discussion on Jan. 21.
“[Given] the precarious situation for state and local governments nationwide resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impact on our revenues, the Council is not in a position to rush this review process,” wrote Salem. “We want to assure you that we have not pre-judged the issues or made a decision.”