GPD ready for ‘brand new’ challenge of modernizing strategies

— Photo from Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor
Wearing the thin blue line: Sergeant Carl Duda, Officer Bill Dvorscak, Senior Patrolman Jim Brust, Officer Matt Hanzalik, and Officer Tylor Stevens model the caps made for them by Mary Marra, 73, of Latham.

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Police have a headstart on developing strategies to be responsive to the community, says Deputy Chief Curtis Cox.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is requiring all municipal police departments to “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input.”

Each reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to, use of force. The plan must be adopted by April 1, 2021 for the department to be eligible for state funding.

“The protests taking place throughout the nation and in communities across New York in response to the murder of George Floyd illustrate the loss of community confidence in our local police agencies — a reality that has been fueled by our country’s history of police-involved deaths of black and brown people,” Cuomo said in announcing the initiative.

“Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm's way every day to protect us,” he went on. “This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”

Guilderland — population, 35,723 — is about 82.3 percent white, 3.3 percent African-American, 3.7 percent Hispanic, and 9.1 percent Asian, according to the United States Census Bureau. Also 10.8 percent of Guilderland residents are foreign born.

The town has 38 police officers; none of them are people of color, Cox said, noting that two of them are women.

“We have to follow Albany County Civil Service hiring rules,” said Cox, explaining that candidates take an exam and “have to be reachable.”

The Guilderland department also hires lateral transfers — officers from other departments — which opens up the process, Cox said.

“We’ve always said we want to represent our community,” Cox stated.

Since 2009, Cox said, Guilderland has been accredited through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, meeting the 109 standards set out by the state.

“All in all, we have close to 150 policies and procedures, including those 109 standards,” he said.

Cox, who has been with the Guilderland Police Department for 36 years, said it was under the leadership of the recently retired chief, Carol Lawlor, that the department went through the lengthy accreditation process, which has to be renewed every five years.

Cox said the department’s officers already train on strategies like de-escalation and that the department is up to date on its use-of-force policy.

“We have an anti-racial-profiling policy,” said Cox.

He went on, “We’ve always welcomed public input,” which can be made through phone calls, email, or the department’s website, he said.

Cox continued, “We send out surveys every month to get feedback.”

He explained, “If you had interaction with the police department, we randomly send five or 10 [surveys] for feedback.”

Asked about the responses, Cox said, they are “mostly complimentary.” He added, “Sometimes, people didn’t get follow-up.”

Asked if the department had faced criticism or heard complaints about racial discrimination, Cox said, “As a whole, no. I think we serve everyone equally and fairly. We don’t police differently for anyone. We haven’t seen any real issues like that.”

Cuomo’s directive states that police departments, in developing their plans, must certify that they have:

— Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;

— Presented a plan, by the chief executive and head of the local police force, to the public for comment; and

— After consideration of any comments, presented the plan to the local legislative body (in Guilderland’s case, the town board) which has to approve the plan by either local law or resolution.

If the Guilderland Town Board does not certify the plan, the police department may not be eligible to receive future state funding.

“Certainly, we’ll comply with the order. We’ll develop a plan,” said Cox. He added that specifics like which stakeholders would be involved or how they would be engaged hasn’t yet been sorted out.

Cox noted, “It’s brand new.”


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