Poughkeepsie City Police Body Cams are Stalled

POUGHKEEPSIE – The Poughkeepsie Common Council voted to increase council salaries by more than 66 percent beginning next year. Moments later on Monday night, the council, except for Yvonne Flowers who was absent, went into executive session to discuss a resolution that would extend the city’s contract with the police union through the end of 2020.

The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) negotiated by the city’s administration and the police union (PBA) called for a three percent salary increase and also spelled out how the department would implement body-worn cameras by the officers.

After a lengthy closed-door debate, the council members returned to the chambers and voted to table the resolution until their requests for additional information are satisfied.

Sources have implied that a few members of the council had sought to change some of the wording in the MOA, which is out of their scope of authority, according to the city’s attorney Paul Ackermann. “The common council is required to ratify the memorandum of agreement but has no authority to negotiate the terms of the agreement,” he said.

By law, negotiations are carried out between the administration and the PBA representatives. Councilman Matthew McNamara was not in the room at the time of the vote to postpone the ratification and was upset that they voted without him.

“Collective bargaining agreements come to the common council for ratification; our role is to approve or deny while being mindful of the city’s continuing fiscal challenges and management’s policy objectives,” said McNamara via email. “It is not the role of the council to insert itself into the bargaining process itself, and certainly not at the 11th hour on the day of the vote. The failure of the council to ratify this agreement will delay the implementation of body-worn-cameras, which has important ramifications for officer safety and police-community relations – that is simply unacceptable.”

Police Chief Thomas Pape has been researching the options for body-worn cameras for quite some time. According to Pape, the city has chosen a vendor and is ready to move forward with the system because the cameras have arrived. “The city has signed an agreement with AXON for the lease of 65 body-worn cameras. This is a five-year lease that includes equipment upgrades twice during the five years. Year one gets all of the necessary equipment, software and training on-site for $50,232. This will also include video storage and evidence control. After year one that maintenance increases to $114,972 each year for the next four years.”

The failure to ratify the MOA could possibly delay the cameras being used, the chief said.
Pape has previously advised the council that he has drawn up a set of policies and procedures related to the cameras. He has had the guidelines reviewed by both an ACLU attorney and the PBA attorney and both sides of the spectrum are satisfied that the policies cover any issues that may arise from the recording of interactions between the police and public. Some members of the council have demanded that they be involved with developing the policies and procedures, despite not having in-depth knowledge of law enforcement procedures. Those efforts have been resisted by Chief Pape who has been researching body-cams since being named top-cop in 2016.

The council’s failure to bring the MOA to a vote has also drawn the ire of the PBA.

Detective Chris Libolt, PBA vice-president, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying “We are truly disappointed that the common council failed to act on the proposed agreement between the PBA and the Administration. It was a win-win for all involved and the biggest losers are the residents of this city. This contract would have directly benefited the public. We hope that those who failed to see the public benefit would reconsider their position.”

Council Chairwoman Ann Finney claims that the delayed vote will not have a negative impact on the timeline for the police to start using the cameras. She maintains that the MOA will be voted on in October, provided the administration delivers the requested documentation. “As of today, September 24, the city’s timetable for department-wide use of body cameras allows ample time for a council vote on the MOA,” said Finney. Councilmember Sarah Brannen declined to comment on the cause of the postponed vote, citing the rules that govern executive sessions.

The council will consider the contract extension at the October 7th meeting, Finney said.

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