City of Syracuse signs executive order on criminal justice reform

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Protesters have called for change and Syracuse City Hall isn’t just listening, but now taking action.

On Friday afternoon at the city’s weekly community briefing, Mayor Walsh singed his first executive order which will update police training, strengthen policies and improve transparency.

A total of 16 provisions are within the executive order. One of those is associated directly with the Syracuse Police Reform Right to Know Act.

The executive order allows additional protection for human and civil rights and requires greater police transparency when dealing with the public.

The other 15 provisions are related to police accountability, relations and reform throughout the city of Syracuse.

“We hear you and we are going to make more progress.”

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh

This executive order comes after the community has been pressing the city for more progress and change faster.

Mayor Walsh has heard from 15 different groups within the community with nearly 40 demands and proposals for change.

Some he’s able to implement quickly. Others, despite the executive order, are still going to take some time, such as putting dashboard cameras in all Syracuse Police Department patrol cars.

Walsh said the pressure he and other city leaders feel will only keep them from moving forward.

My hope is that they show the community that we’re taking this very seriously. We’re not just resting on what we have done, because we are proud of what we have accomplished, but we’re saying ‘here’s what we’ve done already, here’s what we’re doing right now, and here’s what we’re doing moving forward. What we’re not saying is that we’re done or that there isn’t a lot more to do. There is and we’re taking action today.

Mayor Ben Walsh, City of Syracuse

As the body, as the administration and the legislative body, we have a very good working relationship. We work very well together through this whole period and we will continue to keep moving forward. There are going to some points where we may not agree on and there are going to be points that we do agree on… We just have to continue to work together because we all are representing the same people.

Helen Hudson, President, Syracuse Common Council

Since taking office, this is Mayor Walsh’s first executive order signed.

He said this is ultimately a way where the community can hold him accountable for the decisions he signed on Friday, and a form of working together with other city leaders to make effective change for the city.

Walsh said some of the demands from the 15 groups do overlap. The plan moving forward is that the city will continue to engage in discussions at the table with those members of the organizations before coming to any decisions.

You can read the 16 provisions from the Mayor’s executive order below:

Jeff Piedmonte, the president of the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association, released the following statement on Friday afternoon:

Syracuse PBA Statement

“The Syracuse PBA was caught off-guard today when we learned of Mayor’s Walsh’s press conference minutes before it was held. Earlier this week I emailed both Mayor Walsh and Chief Buckner to inquire if they were having some type of negotiations with the Common Council about issues that would impact our police officers. I never heard back from either and then today we watched as the mayor stated he was signing his first executive order as the mayor. Mayor Walsh indicated that this order will immediately take effect but officers at SPD aren’t even aware of it or what it means. The PBA finds it extremely disturbing that the mayor wants to impose substantial changes to our duties but these changes aren’t even discussed with the PBA board. The mayor went on and on about meeting with all sorts of stakeholders and protest groups but never about meeting with the people impacted by his decisions. Changes in working conditions need to be negotiated with the PBA executive board.

Mayor Walsh wants to analyze no-knock warrants, which are allowed in certain circumstances which need to be spelled out in the application of the search warrant. The reason for the no-knock warrant is to protect the safety of the officers against violent criminals and to preserve evidence.  When it’s known that occupants of a residence are armed a judge will sign off on issuing the no-knock clause. When the evidence can easily be destroyed the judge also will issue a no-knock warrant. When the police are looking to seize a vehicle or computers, etc. the judge will force us to knock and wait for the occupants to open the door. Homicide detectives executed a warrant this week regarding a homicide but it wasn’t issued as a no-knock warrant. The judges signing these warrants know what to look for in order to agree to the no-knock clause. All of a sudden everyone except the experts, that being the judges and the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, know everything about no-knock warrants.

Council President Helen Hudson stated she wants state laws changed to compel police officers to live in the city but she doesn’t mention that City politicians don’t enforce the school district’s residency law. School district employees are compelled under the law to live in the city that law is not enforced by the school board and Common Council so they can reside anywhere they wish. Since it’s so important to have city employees reside in Syracuse why doesn’t the council force the issue? If a city employee is a custodian or secretary at City Hall they must live in the city but if they hold the same title and work for the school district, everyone looks the other way. Before attempting to change a state law why doesn’t the council enforce the existing one and force school district employees to comply? This unofficial waiver for school district employees eats at all the other city employees who follow the law. Maybe the council should tackle that obstacle before worrying about the police and fire departments.

Just last year SPD rewrote our use of force policy with the assistance of Corporation Counsel and outside attorneys. Now because everyone across the country is complaining about use of force policies the mayor wants SPD to again rewrite the policy. Officers in NYS are some of the best-trained officers in the country. That’s why we can leave NYS and get hired in other states but not vice versa. Most states will accept our training and hire NYS officers without hesitation. We’ll accept whatever new training is necessary but our use of force policy does not need to be rewritten just to appease people. Enough is enough.

This past year many school districts across the country hired police officers to work in the schools in order to protect students from attack. Even with police officers and metal detectors weapons were found inside city schools, but now the protestors want the police out of the schools. We need more officers on the streets so I hope we pull our officers from the schools, unfortunately, with call volume so high they may need to wait hours for us to be free to respond, similar to our Syracuse residents now.

Politicians are making it harder and harder to retain officers and certainly more difficult to get young civilians interested in becoming a police officer. Many officers have told me they no longer will advise interested civilians into pursuing a career as a police officer. The risks are not worth the rewards any longer. Just today a minority officer told me he spent 15 minutes convincing a Nottingham graduate not to pursue a career at SPD but to focus on the fire department or federal government. That’s sad because the officer does a great job but that is how he now sees SPD.

On a nightly basis we have multiple locations of numerous shots fired along with a record homicide rate but the police officers are portrayed as the bad guys. Unless the residents of Syracuse want the violence to continue the PBA board urges them to contact the mayor and Common Council and voice your concerns about hamstringing your officers.

The men and women at SPD work hard every day to protect the residents and visitors in Syracuse.  It’s time for some of the people that know we do a great job to speak up before it’s impossible to effectively police in Syracuse.”

Other topics discussed throughout the briefing were COVID-19 in the city.

As of Friday, the city confirmed there are 1,430 confirmed cases and 899 recoveries. He then spoke on the reopening process, reminding the public that they should keep their guard up to head into Phase Four.

Phase Four will include entertainment and recreation services.

Walsh also spoke on the importance of the census, saying that we are losing pace with the state average. So far, there has been a 48.9 percent response rate.

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