Monday, August 31, 2015

Mayoral candidates Q&A: Public safety

This is the first in a series of Q&As with all five mayoral candidates on various city issues. This format is similar that used in this 12-question Reddit thread created by Reddit user cybermage, which all candidates participated in. Given its importance, we began with public safety. Stay tuned for more installments to come before the Nov. 3 election. The primary election is on Sept. 10.

Also, a Meet the Candidates Forum, open to all city candidates, will be held Friday, Sept. 4 at Bethel Baptist Church at 6 p.m. Residents will have the opportunity to ask candidates their own questions.

For further comments from these candidates,on crime, safety and recent violence, read my story that ran in Sunday, Aug. 30's paper.

These responses are exactly as the candidates sent them and were not edited for length or content.

Given recent nationwide attention and criticism of police departments, what, if any, changes would you like to see in the Troy Police Department’s relationship to the community?

Patrick Madden (D): I have spent many years supporting the ability of neighborhood residents to effectively interact with police. Community policing, when it is allowed to work, creates two way pathways for communication and understanding. My goal would be to continue and formalize the ability of the community and the police to work together to address the problems that we face. 

Jack Cox, Jr. (Independent): As a law abiding citizen, as a whole I am supportive of our law enforcement system not only here in Troy but across the country. My concerns with local law enforcement not only involve the police department but the citizens of Troy as well. The age at which we allow individuals to become police officers, the aggressive training methods and improper behavior of a few of our officers are some of my immediate concerns with our police department. I would like to increase the minimum age requirement and change some, not all, of their combat style training to communication and awareness training. Training that will allow officers to better understand the issue at hand and better determine their response in order to diffuse the situation. Sometimes just their presence with no contact is enough to solve a problem. The citizens of Troy and America need to show the proper respect to all law enforcement officers at all times, not just when they “need” them. I was taught if you are not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If you are doing something wrong or are unjustly treated don’t resist and don’t run. If you resist or run, you expose yourself, through your own actions, to an increase in aggressiveness of the police response. I am confident however that the nationwide attention will bring about nationwide reform.

Rodney Wiltshire (D): As City Council President I’ve been an advocate for community policing. If elected I will continue to work with neighborhood leaders and the police force to make community policing effective. We’ve made tremendous strides, but for too many citizens and patrolman alike, the only interaction they have with each other is during arrests and confrontations. We need our officers and residents to truly understand and respect each other and to support and complement each other's roles.

Jim Gordon (R): I believe we are on the correct path when it comes to furthering positive relationships between our police and the public. As a current council member and long time participant in community initiatives I have had the opportunity to work closely with the members of our Community Police Bureau. I understand the importance of this function and would support expansion of it. I also have been a supporter of the TPD Cadet program that engages youth who have an interest in law enforcement as a career and recently I have begun to assist in the formalization of the departments Police Athletic League (PAL) which provides programming and opportunity to local youth. As we continue to have the officers and members of our community engage and participate in community enriching opportunities we will continue to strengthen the relationship between TPD and our residents.
Lastly one initiative we need to undertake within all our city departments is growing a diverse workforce. We should be turning to our local residents, offering opportunity through job fairs and encouraging individuals to take our civil service tests, partner with our community centers, churches, and alike to share that together we can share the message of the benefits of working for the city you call home and positive outcomes that grow from it.

Ernest Everett (D): First, our police do a phenomenal job, especially in light of the violence that happened recently. I believe that while we may need more officers to cover a growing city, we need a more diverse police force as well. We need the changing face of Troy to be able to relate to the faces of our police and vice versa.
We also need more community leaders - those who are the most vocal - to be the most active. Get involved. Organize. Organize something for these kids to do, instead of bashing what they’ve done. Lead by example…Set up job programs, set up family focused events and show our youth that being productive members of society is beneficial to all.

After a period of violent crime last summer, some residents called for the return of an 
aggressive policing unit. Do you support this type of policing and do you think it’s necessary in Troy?

Cox: I do not support or feel the need for an aggressive police unit. Crime has always been present 
and will always be present in our city. Some years are worse than others. The repercussions to this form of policing include lawsuits and a community that fears their law officers. I believe we will be better served with officers trained to communicate more effectively with the public. Training officers to focus on deceleration of aggressive / tense situations and when necessary, containment of a hostile situation until State Troopers arrive. The State Police are better trained and equipped to handle extremely aggressive criminal activity. Local law enforcement should focus on keeping a criminal isolated while removing innocent civilians from the line of fire. Very seldom do the police have the ability to prevent a crime, merely investigate after one has been committed. Crime prevention starts with each of us. Don’t leave valuables in plain sight in your cars.  Lock your doors at night and don’t open them unless you know who it is. If you see a situation turning volatile move out of the way so you don’t get caught in the middle.  These rules apply everywhere in the United States, not just here in Troy.

Everett: The street crimes unit is a great resource in the summer months. We need to look at past statistics, see when/where crime rates spike and react accordingly to better serve Troy.

Wiltshire: I’ve spoken to Chief Tedesco about this and his professional experience has informed me that the street crimes unit would not be effective in dealing with the issues that we’re facing. I fully 
support his judgment on this. We need officers embedded in our communities and we need to diffuse our neighborhoods that feel far too much like warzones. Bringing back a street crimes unit won’t accomplish that.

Madden: I do not. As has been amply demonstrated aggressive policing practices trade long term negatives for short term fixes. Alternatively, modern, data driven policing working hand in hand with community policing models will do much more to create sustainable change. With the help and trust of the community we can address the problems without taking a shotgun approach and alienating large segments of our community.

Gordon: Recently I was joined by several dozen community members, local clergy, community activists and leaders - we outlined our approach to address and eliminate crime and quality of life issues within our community, what we are calling our Clean Communities Coalition Initiative. Here are some highlights:
- unite, engage, and support each community enriching group and individual. We can no longer operate as fractured entities. Formation of action plan with clear directives of purpose and levels of local support.
- expand our policing zones to add a fifth zone, which would add two uniformed patrol officers per shift. This improves the public's safety and the safety of our officers. With the element we are facing in Troy more officers are a necessity.
- capitalize on every grant opportunity available for law enforcement purposes. Last year the current mayor turned away a grant worth several hundred thousand dollars that would have added 2 more officers to our force and our streets.
- reinstitute plain clothes details such as the street crimes unit to combat the quality of life, drug, and street crimes.
- enter into a regional approach for addressing the gang and drug activity. Regionally remove the
element rather than push it from community to community.
- improve communication and interdepartmental operations with TPD Community Police, and the departments of DPW and Code Enforcement. Reinstitute the Action Team. A collective and comprehensive approach to timely addressing community issues will result in improved living conditions.
Much of this approach follows the framework of the Broken Windows Theory - this approach as
demonstrated across the country nets results restoring order and reducing crime in communities. We need to engage every willing and able individual to demonstrate the criminal element that exists will
no longer be tolerated. We need to commit to enforcing the laws and codes and claiming our communities as ours. We have some work to do but as demonstrated there are a lot of optimistic and caring people in Troy and with the proper policies and leadership we can make progress.

What practices do you support for dealing with juvenile offenders?

Everett: Put them to work! Instead of jailing these young citizens and giving up on them, order community service in the neighborhood where the crime was committed. Putting a juvenile into jail not only wastes tax payer dollars but education and guidance helps these kids learn how to be productive members of society.

Madden: Drug courts, juvenile justice courts, peer courts, and diversion programs such as Youth Build. It takes a collaborative approach with the Police, the schools and non-profits.

Gordon: We need to deal with juvenile offenders to as the law allows. We need to better implement our curfew ordinance as necessary and engage the county services available that assist with juveniles. Soon the Troy Youth Court will be operation and will assist with matters related to youth who commit crimes - then this needs to be followed up with continued peer and community support to ensure the message was received and that the proper support channels are in place.

Wiltshire: I support treating juveniles as juveniles. Too many kids are thrown into a prison system that all but guarantees they will be unequipped to succeed in society when released. There will always be a tiny number of juveniles who commit heinous crimes that need to be prosecuted as adults. But the vast majority of our juveniles offenders are acting out because they lack stable homes, food, access to parks and they live in neighborhoods full of crime. These kids need opportunities, education and where appropriate, rehabilitation. Trojan kids are our kids, and we need to care for them first before we decide that kids from certain areas are destined to be locked up.

Cox: This is a very difficult group of individuals to deal with. Many of the juvenile offenders are young people with no role models or mentors. Some are children that have fallen through the cracks of society and are just trying to be noticed. With the limited recreational opportunities the City offers for young adults, many just have nothing better to do than be mischievous. My support would go to programs like Big Brother-Big Sister that will help provide positive role models and mentors for our lost children. I will support sentencing for juveniles that involve some form of community involvement. If they are athletically inclined they may be required to successfully participate in a sports program. If they are more mechanically inclined like me, they may be required to participate in a program like Youth Build. As Mayor, I plan to expand our parks to provide more opportunity to keep our young adults occupied and provide the tools needed to make them a productive part of the community.

How would you settle union contracts with the fire and police departments?

Wiltshire: One of my top priorities is to settle contracts for all union members that are working without one currently. As Council President I have consistently advocated for the current administration to settle these contracts. If elected, from day one I will do everything and whatever I can to bring all parties to the table and settle fair contracts. I’m proud to be endorsed by over 18 unions and count the UFA as a financial supporter. I’m the only candidate endorsed by labor- and endorsed widely by labor- because their members trust I can get the job done on this issue.

Everett: The first step is communication. I’ll be speaking with them about priorities and we’ll go 
over current/future financial numbers to assure workers that what they want will be good for the city as well. We want our fire and police to feel appreciated. We then come up with a comprehensive plan that moves Troy forward.

Gordon: The bigger issue here is that all the employee union contracts are expired in the city and there’s been no real movement to settle. This will be one of the top priorities of my administration and will be one of the immediate items on our agenda, but for any current or potential public official to talk about specifics of how they would negotiate these settlements would be reckless and not in the best interest of the city.

Cox: I have witnessed the bravery of these departments across the country on many occasions. They have my greatest respect and admiration. As much as I would like to grant them every request, in the end it always comes down to money. I will not make irresponsible or empty promises to gain their political support. The negotiations to settle union contracts have to acknowledge a balance between fair salaries and benefits and the city’s ability to support those benefits with the tax structure. What I need is a little time. Time to review the current union contracts, the union’s requests and the city’s finances. If the union’s give me the time I need to do my research, when I do come to the table it will be with the spirit of cooperation and with the knowledge to negotiate in everyone’s best interest.

Madden: We will approach negotiations with the understanding that we are the stewards of both the most effective management of the public safety department and the taxpayer.

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