Police Chief Kevin C. Beach defended his officers and department about not being “knowledgeable” or having the materials available for the public to file personnel complaints — part of the department’s Police Reform Plan – after continued complaints were voiced by members of the Rome Chapter NAACP during public comments at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting.
Beach said he attended the Common Council meeting held in Common Council Chambers of City Hall Wednesday so that if needed, he could answer questions about the proposed 2022 city budget. But after officers and the department were again accused of not following protocols established in the Rome Police Reform Plan, which was completed and submitted to the state by April 1 as part of the state mandate ordered by then Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Beach reiterated that the situation had been a “misunderstanding” between Patrolman Hollie Silverman and Felicia James-Williams, 1st vice-president of Rome Chapter NAACP.
As she did at the previous council meeting held Sept. 8, James-Williams stated Wednesday during public comments that she went to Rome Police on Aug. 31 to inquire about the Viper surveillance vehicle being parked in front of the NAACP office on West Thomas Street and asked for a complaint form.
Beach reiterated Wednesday that the officer at the front desk believed James-Williams was requesting a form to fill out to file a complaint about the Viper being parked in her neighborhood because she wanted it removed, but that only a police officer could take down such a complaint. Patrolman Silverman did direct James-Williams to speak with Lt. John Reilly, and the Viper was later moved a few blocks down the street.
Beach said James-Williams did not make it clear that she wished to file a personnel complaint.
“She (Officer Silverman) said, ‘We don’t have any,’” said James-Williams in her comments. “...Why is it so difficult to file a complaint when people feel they have not been treated fairly by a police officer? We were assured that those forms would be readily available at the front window, and it was not.”
She said, “the chief referred to the incident as a misunderstanding, but if she (the officer) was not sure of what form I was requesting, she could have asked. This furthers our concern there needs to be more training. It’s sad when people who look like me feel comfortable with being uncomfortable living in Rome.”
Local business owner Sarita Ruiz said she was “disturbed” to learn of James-Williams’ experience at the police department.
“To say this is a ‘miscommunication’ is yet another way of giving an excuse for poor performance,” said Ruiz.
Rome Chapter NAACP President Jacqueline Nelson complained about the need for citizens to be “specific” when requesting complaint forms from police.
“If there’s confusion in the department, then why didn’t the officer ask what kind of complaint” you needed to file, “maybe there’s more than one thing to file for unfair treatment,” Nelson said.
James-Williams, “had every right to inquire why the Viper was in front of the office and this needs to stop,” Nelson continued. “We can’t wait for new leadership and then just hope things get better.”
Nelson then asked for an update on the police body cameras, “because the chief doesn’t seem to take my calls again.”
She said, “There seems to be a lot of discussion about the hockey rink, and I understand that,” referring to the Sept. 8 council meeting when Rome Youth Hockey was discussed, “The NAACP wishes, and the people who are disenfranchised, that you’d spend as much time discussing diversity and equality as much as you put time into talking about a hockey rink.”
Following the public’s comments, Chief Beach said he felt compelled to respond to the complaints.
“I feel this has gone on long enough — this back-and-forth about forms and the Viper,” he said.
Beach explained that he reviewed police department video from when James-Williams visited the public safety building and spoke to Lt. Reilly, Deputy Chief David J. Collins and other high-ranking officers, as well as Officer Silverman, and it was determined the incident was a “misunderstanding.”
“Officer Silverman is one of our top officers. She’s very educated and professional, knows her job, and doesn’t need additional training,” said Beach. “Ms. Williams first said she had a problem with the vehicle and wanted the Viper removed.”
In response, Silverman said Williams had to “speak with Sgt. (Shane) Riolo because he is in charge of the Viper — he is the person who has the vehicle moved. She (Silverman) doesn’t have the authority,” Beach continued. “Then a few minutes later, Ms. Williams says, ‘give me a complaint form.’ She (Silverman) thought Ms. Williams was speaking about the Viper.”
The chief said Silverman continued to try and assist Williams by having her speak with Lt. Reilly.
“At no time does she say she has a problem with personnel,” Beach said of Williams. “If she had a problem, then we have personnel complaint forms on our computer and on the front of the department’s webpage.”
Silverman also presented Williams with a business card, the chief added, and “asked if that would do,” before the NAACP official left the building.
“We are here to serve the entire public,” said Beach. As part of the police reform policy, “Complaints were done so community members have access if they wanted to do complaints in-person, over the phone, or they can even print them out and send them by mail. I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to keep going back-and-forth on this. I take it personally when my officers are getting insulted, and they don’t deserve it.”
During councilor comments, First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace, who also sits on the Public Safety Committee, said he spoke with Chief Beach about the complaint and the ability to obtain forms at the police department. Sparace indicated that Officer Silverman did have Williams speak with an officer about the Viper, and that the vehicle was removed from that area as a result. Sparace said the chief also tried checking in with Williams, but he didn’t get a response.
“I believe this was a misunderstanding,” said Sparace. “The lieutenant went above and beyond to assist on this matter. My opinion is that once the Viper is placed in a strategic location, it should not be moved. It’s put there to monitor places of high concern, by request of a resident or councilor. I have 20 copies of the personnel complaint form here with me if anyone would like copies.”
As for a police body cameras update, Chief Beach said four cameras have been on lease for almost three weeks.
“Now we do plan on purchasing 65 cameras from that company, and we’ve submitted two grant applications,” Beach said. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services, “is still saying funding will be there, but I’ve been told by city officials that we’re purchasing the cameras one way or another. We have the software installed, and we’re currently using them.”