NEWBURGH – The City of Newburgh’s new police commissioner and police chief held the first open community policing forum since their swearing-in one month ago. The Wednesday evening session was held at the Ritz Theater.
Residents raised a number of issues to Chief Anthony Geraci and Commissioner Jose Gomerez, with the use of SROs (school resource officers) in Newburgh schools being one of the pressing and more current issues.
A number of residents are concerned with the reimaging of the police department in such an early stage so soon after Executive Order 203 and many are still wary of police presence, that young people will be afraid to attend school if there is such an officer there, especially one who is armed.
Commissioner Gomerez assured residents that they have only proposed one SRO for the district and that the officer would not operate in a capacity to enforce laws or take punitive measures against students, that their presence would be solely for the normalization of police and youth encounters. Gomerez said when they made the proposal, the department saw a lot of potential in fostering those interactions in schools, where the officer could be a source of support for youths, rather than an authoritarian figure looking to get them in trouble; however, he added that if the community doesn’t want it, their say will rule.
“I think it’s a great idea. I made a suggestion. This is a community police department. If they say no, then we move forward to the next step until we find common ground on the next agenda,” said Gomerez.
Commissioner Gomerez and Chief Geraci said that in order for the SRO to be placed in the district, it must first be approved by the board of education and then appear before the city council where it will require joint approval by both the city and the residents.
Gomerez admits that having such a large community involvement in policing procedures is unprecedented, but that he said, is what makes the process so valuable.
“The beauty of this is that we’re going to and then we’re going to readdress what we’re doing and then take what is working and leave what is not working. That would be the case with the SRO,” said Gomerez. “If they don’t want it, it’s not working for the community, then we leave it and move to the next thing,” he said.
Since the SRO garnered so much community feedback and has been one of the first proposals, it will most likely be the first of reimaging issues to be dealt with, but other issues including enforcement for college partiers, dirt bikes riding up the streets and sidewalks, as well as what importance the police department funding will hold in the upcoming budget remain on the agenda.