Poughkeepsie City Council Passes Right to Know Act

Law Mandates Officer Identification, Transparency During Police Encounters

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
July 13, 2020 8:15 pm

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POUGHKEEPSIE – Today the Poughkeepsie City Council voted unanimously in favor of the Right to Know Act, a police transparency law that will require police officers to identify themselves, name the reason for a stop or encounter, and provide information on the complaint process at the end of encounters that do not result in an arrest or summons.

“The Right to Know Act is an essential step to rebuild trust between police and the community after decades of aggressive policing targeting our communities of color,” said Shannon Wong, Director of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the NYCLU. “We can’t wait for another instance of police abuse or harm to change the power imbalance that keeps so many members of our community unsafe and rightfully concerned for police encounters. I hope this law will help create an environment where police are more readily prepared to de-escalate those encounters.”

The bill was originally introduced three years ago and the subject of ongoing conversations between members of the community, the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department, and the Common Council. During early meetings, police made a commitment to procedural justice and enhancing officer training as steps to addressing a standing history of excessive force.

The passage comes on the heels of mass calls to address police violence in the Poughkeepsie community. On May 23 Maurice Gordon, a Poughkeepsie resident, was shot six times and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Last year, a video spread on social media showing Poughkeepsie police officers throwing a 15-year old girl, Jamelia Barnett, to the ground. The department then brought charges against Barnett and her sister Julisssa Dawkins. That case is ongoing.

“The momentum to pass this bill came after a national moment about police brutality, but make no mistake that members of the community have been pushing for this for years,” said Rasonia Squire, ENJAN Member. “Community members have been bringing complaints about violence and plain disrespect from some of the officers in the City of Poughkeepsie Department for years. For too long those complaints were swept under the rug, and now we’ll have power and visibility to rebuild a police-community relationship with the community in mind.”

All too often, people have no idea why they’re being questioned, stopped, or searched by a police officer. Policy in certain police departments already requires that officers provide their name, rank, shield number, and command when asked. However, in many instances, officers do not identify themselves to members of the public and many individuals report fear of asking for the identity of an officer for fear of retaliation. Research suggests that in the absence of anonymity, officers are less likely to engage in abusive or discourteous behavior.

Across the state, similar legislation has been adopted in Albany and Kingston, while Peekskill and Newburgh are considering it. Poughkeepsie is the first city in the Hudson Valley to pass this legislation.

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