POUGHKEEPSIE – Last Wednesday marked the third annual National Coffee with a Cop Day and the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department participated at four locations.
The national initiative is an effort to enable meaningful conversations with community residents, according to Police Captain Rich Wilson. He said the city department “strives through community outreach to build and strengthen relations in our diverse population. Face-to-face communications in a comfortable and informal setting is a great way to build trust.”
The second of the day’s coffee stop was at North River Roasters located in the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Several residents of Hudson River Housing were present to interact with the department’s top brass.
City resident Earl Brown was appreciative of the day’s opportunity.
“I want to find a path for fostering better relationships between the community and the police department because it’s essential that we understand each other and try to work together for the safety of the community,” Brown said.
Chief Thomas Pape, Captain Richard Wilson, and other officers participated in a roundtable discussion addressing issues of procedural justice, diversity in the police force, recruitment of new officers and community policing.
Lieutenant Zeltman, in discussing the “Procedural Justice” campaign which encourages the concept of interacting with everyone in a fair manner, said that his department will likely be the first in the state to have every officer trained in the concept of procedural justice.
As the topic of the mental illness/homeless population came up, Zeltman said that 75 percent of the department’s 84 officers have received at least 40 hours of crisis intervention training to assist in dealing with those suffering from mental illness or crisis.
Chief Pape also mentioned the BEAT program that the city has which partners an officer with a trained crisis worker to actively go out and contact with those possibly in need.
Sergeant Joe Herring has been tasked with recruitment efforts for the department and said he has been attending local high school job fairs to encourage the students to consider a career with the department. He has found the task difficult because of recent changes in the civil service qualifications for eligibility.
The changes included the addition of 60 college credit hours and/or a combination of college and military service.
Chief Pape said that the department is unable to recruit a locally diverse group of candidates because of the college requirement. According to Pape, both he and Mayor Robert Rolison have lobbied the county to waive the college requirement and claim the county has not responded favorably. When reached for comment, Steven Rector, Dutchess County commissioner of Human Resources, the civil service authority for the county, said “we are not against the concept of reducing the minimum qualifications as it pertains to college credits.” Rector plans to interact with all police chiefs in the county along with the governing heads of the municipalities to gauge the interest in making the changes.
Chief Pape said that his department has a college tuition program that can be used to attract local high school graduates to apply for the position knowing that they can get tuition assistance from the department.
One participant asked about the diminished community outreach efforts and Captain Wilson responded, “When we had a fully staffed community policing division, we had more outreach efforts.” The chief encouraged everyone to revitalize the old neighborhood groups that met monthly and had police in attendance. Noting that few neighborhood style meetings now occur, Pape said “if we’re invited, we’ll come.”
The City of Poughkeepsie Police Department works closely with several surrounding agencies including the Town of Poughkeepsie Police and the Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department. To further foster those relationships, the officers Rivera and Soto from the MTA Police joined the city cops at a coffee shop near the Poughkeepsie train station while the town police were joining with the city police at a Wednesday evening outreach event held at a diner near Marist College where the town and city borders meet.