Review of proposed police reform plan should be made easier, speaker urges

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Opportunities for the public to comment on the first draft of Police Chief Kevin C. Beach’s proposed police reform plan was discussed during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting held via audio stream.

Rome Police is considering several reforms regarding body-worn cameras, internal accountability, mental health calls and community interaction as part of the governor’s request to seek more collaboration with the community.

The first draft of the department’s reform plan is available for public viewing on the agency’s website at www.romepd.com. The report goes in-depth on several existing policies within the police department, as well as concerns expressed by the public and the reform committee.

Rome’s Community Advisory Committee was formed in July and started meeting in mid-August. The draft was put together over the course of roughly eight meetings, with input from other local organizations, including the Rome chapter of the NAACP.

During the opportunity for public comment during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, Jacqueline Nelson, Rome Chapter NAACP president, said the review process for the police reform plan should be made easier for members of the public to view, especially seeing that the city has an April 1 deadline to submit a final plan to Albany.

During COVID-19, it has only been announced that the draft plan is available on the police department’s website, but is not posted on any other city resource, she said.

“The City of Rome feels no concerns and this is a concern for us,” said Nelson. “Our suggestions” for revisions/additions “are not mentioned, and the citizens group (committee) had no comment...The governor was clear that he wanted public officials to be part of the process, but I feel” the city “was just going through the motions and the plan doesn’t address what the governor mandated. There needs to be a change in Rome and our elected officials — Rome needs to start taking this seriously. Our suggestions are not mentioned, and when will the public comments happen?”

In earlier comments, Nelson also suggested that the city make its meetings more accessible to the public and offer Zoom or video meetings in addition to the option of audio streaming, so members of the public may also view what’s going on. She said community members should also have a better opportunity to comment, rather than only having the option of submitting comments 24 hours in advance of meetings.

Felicia James-Williams, vice-president of the Rome Chapter NAACP, also said she had questions about the police reform draft during the public comment period.

“Besides posting the draft on the police department’s website, how will the city advertise this to the public?,” she asked.

During councilor reports, Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson mentioned that the opportunity for the public to submit comments for meetings has been extended from noon to 3 p.m. the day before said meeting, “but we’re still not there, and I question whether or not we’re running good government because we’re limiting access to the public” since COVID-19, Anderson said. “We’ve had lower numbers of residents” attending meetings and making comments, “since the pandemic and it’s been very frustrating...I think globally we’re 11 months now into the pandemic, and we need to step back and assess to see if we’re providing good service to the people of the City of Rome by allowing them access to public officials. I want to thank Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. James-Williams for speaking — we appreciate all speakers — we don’t have enough of them.”

As for the draft police reform plan, “anyone who wants to discuss the report, we’re hoping to meet on Feb. 23 with the NAACP and talk about the draft at that point,” he said. “For specific dates and times for public comment, we need to give enough time for comments before the chief” can make any revisions to the document, “so we need to speak with him first before we can set up any specific dates.”

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers said while the police reform plan “is a draft,” and while it may be “missing things” if it has “glaring omissions,” or if members of the public “are feeling strongly about it, they should reach out for comments.”

Rogers then asked if there was a “central location” for the collection of comments. “I have my own comments that I’d like to submit,” she said. “I didn’t see a specific email address” where comments may be sent.

“That’s a good question and we’ll find that out,” Anderson answered. “I’ll go to Chief Beach first and then let you know. I will also, if other councilors don’t have it, share the link from my councilor page...the city can share the link.”

Common Council President Stephanie Viscelli reported that Chief Beach would be meeting with councilors to answer any questions have and discuss hosting a public forum to hear feedback to that the public has the opportunity to see the discussions rather than just write comments.

As for public access to meetings, Viscelli said the reason people have had to register is “for possible tech issues,” but due to it being trying economic times during the pandemic, the city “needs to balance accessibility to the cost, regionally.”

“We’re working on it,” she said.

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