BATAVIA — The City of Batavia Police Stakeholders Group meeting Thursday included some questions on racial profiling and a review of topics such as problem-oriented policing and hot-spot policing.
The discussion on racial profiling had to do with calls to the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center and came up during a presentation by county Sheriff’s Office Assistant Director of Emergency Communications/Operations Frank Riccobono. Riccobono’s presentation covered the center and how it fits into the community.
Group member Bill Blackshear asked Riccobono what the dispatch center’s protocol is on handling non-emergency calls that may be based on racial profiling and the assumption that someone is doing something suspicious based on the color of their skin.
Riccobono said dispatchers receive training, he said. Skin color, religion and gender are not factors in the way a call is handled.
“Our job is to treat everybody fairly and I think we do a pretty good job of that. But, I’ll be the first to say, if anybody ever experiences an issue like that, please call me and I’ll leave my business cards tonight, because I will not put up with that and I’ll guarantee you the sheriff will not put up with that,” he said. “We have rules and regulations just like Batavia police and racial profiling is a no-no, absolutely a no-no.”
Blackshear said some people may call 911 for anything.
“Maybe the person is doing something suspicious and that’s where we teach our people, ‘Send them out.’ Maybe it is a BS complaint,” Riccobono said.
Riccabono said a person might be doing something that looks suspicious to a caller, but is found not to be.
“I’ll give you a perfect example. This happened not too long ago. We had a call about 3 o’clock in the morning — an individual that was carrying a TV set down Main Street ... Most people would find that suspicious. The guy was actually moving from one apartment to another and he was carrying his TV from one apartment down the street to the other. The police went, checked it out, no harm, no foul and we went on.”
The assistant director said he personally hasn’t had a call where a person has said, “Because of their skin color, I think they’re guilty.”
“I haven’t had that. I can’t say that someone else hasn’t,” Riccobono said.
Blackshear asked, “Are there consequences because of that, if that’s determined to be a bogus call?”
Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said there was a law enacted in this past year which restricts abuse of 911. In June, New York lawmakers passed legislation that would create a civil penalty for the biased misuse of emergency services, such as 911, when there is no reason to believe a crime or offense, or imminent threat to person or property, was occurring.
Riccobono said there have been people who called 911 and have started harassing the dispatcher for no reason.
“There have been ones who have been arrested. We had one a month ago, two months ago ... where the person made, I think it was something like 38 phone calls in a matter of a couple hours,” he said. “The bad thing is, that ties up that dispatcher, now, from a possible real emergency — especially when that occurs in the middle of the night, when there’s only three dispatchers working.”
ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF Christopher Camp described problem-oriented policing, one of the topics on the agenda. He said the easiest way to explain problem-oriented policing would be to talk about traffic grants.
“The traffic grant, we get money from the state to assign officers on overtime details to enforce vehicle-and-traffic laws. The way in which we apply for those grants (is) we use our motor vehicle accidents,” he said. “We analyze where motor vehicle accidents are within the city, we identify the contributing factors of those accidents. We put that in as a reason on how we feel we would lessen the impact or lessen the amount of accidents that we have. We implement that and basically we evaluate that. Did it work? Did we see a decrease in the amount of accidents? Then, we start the process over again.”
Blackshear asked to what degree street cameras assist with policing traffic.
“Those are unique in that we use those as an investigative tool. I guess a really good example of that would be a motor vehicle accident. We would check the community, see what businesses had cameras ... see if we had a street camera there. That’s going to be one of our biggest assets, one of our biggest resources. We can literally find out what happened by logging into that system, checking that and saying, ‘You did, in fact, run a red light. I can see that right here on the camera.’”
Heubusch said, “The street cameras are not monitored 24-7. That is one of the ... misunderstandings of the community, that we are watching them. We do not physically have the resources to do that. They are recording 24-7. We use them in a lot of different criminal investigations, traffic investigations, depending on the location of the camera, as well as the network we have ... the SafeCam Program. You can go on our website, register your camera with us and we will use that for investigative purposes. We don’t control the data, but it does help us solve crime.”
City police use the video footage with the camera owner’s permission, they said.
Group member Michael Henry asked whether an officer at a scene can access video. Camp said accessing that in police cars is difficult because of the data usage.
“It’s a little bit easier to go over to the station (to view video) ... If a detective is working, we’ll get a hold of the detective, but ... the supervisor might be able to break away, get back there to review it or the supervisor might be delayed at the scene because they might want to see what’s going on first.”
Heubusch said, “There is an app for all of our supervisors’ cell phones, so they have the ability to view it on their cell phone if they choose to. It’s a little cumbersome, so usually they like to go back to the office and do it.”
Group member Jerry Ader asked if the public knows where those street cameras are, whether there are any signs up.
“There’s no signs up, although it’s usually about two minutes after it’s put up, the public knows where it is. They’re not marked, but they know it’s a street camera,” Heubusch said.
The police chief said the city has five cameras.
HEUBUSCH ALSO ADDRESSED hot-spot policing, which is strategy focused on small, geographic areas, places where crime is concentrated. Police can focus, with limited resources, on areas where crime is most likely to occur.
“A good example of what we do in hot-spot policing is our NET details — our Neighborhood Enforcement Team details. We get to work with our partners at the local drug task force. They give us the information on where certain drug houses are or certain activities taking place and we try to flood that area for a short period of time to try to make as many arrests as we can.”
This past summer, city police had a two month detail.
“We just have a lot of neighborhood issues. This one area, we decided the only way to really combat that was to put two officers on the street — foot patrol, in a car, and circle in that area for their entire shift.”
Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski said, “I would just like to add, that came to us from residents in the neighborhood that were having issues with some of their neighbors and some of the activities they saw going on. It wasn’t the police force saying, ‘We’re going to pick this street today and we’re going to sit there for a month.’ It really was the neighbors coming to the manager, to the chief and to the City Council saying, ‘We really need your help. We see activity we don’t like and we want you to help us.’”