The legislation would cut the city’s spending on law enforcement by 22 percent, nearly halve the number of officers, and lays out requirements for the execution of search warrants.
The legislation was put together by Citizens of Hudson and the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition and was introduced by Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga, a member of the latter group, at Tuesday night’s Common Council Legal Committee meeting.
Garriga read the legislation’s introduction in its entirety during the meeting, which evoked the names of African Americans killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, who was killed during a police raid in March in Louisville, Kentucky. Hours before Garriga introduced the bill, a grand jury decided against indicting the officers in Taylor’s killing, though one of the officers was indicted on three counts of wonton endangerment for allegedly recklessly spraying bullets into adjacent apartments.
The Hudson Breathe Act includes provisions that would:
- Require all HPD officers to live within Hudson, giving current members living outside the city one year to relocate, and giving any new officers six months to relocate once they are hired. HPD officers must currently live within a 20-mile radius of the city.
- Limit the number of officers in the city to 16, including the chief.
- Cut nearly $1.1 million from the HPD’s budget and reallocate those funds towards subsidized housing, the Hudson Youth Department, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and the creation of a non-emergency phone service connected to a “Citizen Response Team.” This amounts to 22 percent of the HPD budget, according to Citizens of Hudson, who include the funding of police pensions and contractual expenses as part of the department’s budget.
- Require the HPD to account for all money and materials seized during civil forfeiture for the last three years and provide the information to the Mayor and Common Council for review. The Mayor would review all forfeitures before they were accepted in the future.
- Ban the HPD from using military equipment and military uniforms.
- Set up strict guidelines for the execution of search warrants, requiring police to knock so they can be heard, announce themselves as police, and wait a reasonable amount of time, or 15 seconds, whichever is greater, before entering the premises.
The bill also codifies policies already in place in the HPD, as well as parts of Mayor Kamal Johnson’s June executive order reforming the police department. The bill goes much farther than the order. For instance, Johnson’s bill cut the HPD’s budget by 10 percent.
Quintin Cross, an organizer with the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, said there needed to be systematic change in Hudson, and suggested reallocating funds was also necessary as the city faces a large budget shortfall driven by plunging revenues during the pandemic.
“We don’t want to come to a point where there’s all this conversation about what to cut out of the youth department when we have a police department that is 4, 5, 6 times larger,” he said.
One of the Hudson Breathe Act’s sections requires a security camera to be placed in the basement of the Hudson Police Department, which Cross said was in reference to the case of Jermaine McCrae.
McRae accused multiple Hudson police of a pattern of targeted harassment in 2011 and 2012, including officers allegedly twice beating him while handcuffed in the basement of the old Hudson Police Department, where there was no cameras, according to the lawsuit, which was settled after court-mediated discussions.
The Hudson Breathe Act’s “Citizen Response Team” would replace the police response to certain non-emergency situatons, according to Michael Hofmann, a member of Citizens of Hudson.
The group examined the incidents Hudson police respond to and concluded 20 percent of them, including welfare checks, animal control and snow removal, need not be handled by police.
“It seems very important to develop a new agency that does not have the same kind of association and history that the police carry with them, and without the weapons that they carry them, to handle those kind of requests and relieve the police of those extraneous duties that they really are not equipped for, or should be handling,” Hofmann said.
Though there was general agreement in the legal committee on the aims of the Hudson Breathe Act, Jeff Baker, the Common Council’s legal counsel, pointed out many of the provisions involved funding and had to be part of the budgetary process, while other sections involved the police contract, which was decided in in negotiations between the city and the police union.
Alderman John Rosenthal also said he did not want the proposed legislation to conflict with police overhauls already being sought by the Common Council’s Police Committee.
The police committee was still hashing out proposed changes and did not have a definitive timeline for when a bill would be ready, according to Alderman Malachi Walker, a police committee member.
Parts of the Breathe Act dealing with the budget could be broken off into a separate resolution, Baker said, and the legal committee agreed to hold a special session on Thursday, October 1 to prepare it in advance of November’s budget deadline.