Mental health training, community involvement key components of Oneida police reform plan

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ONEIDA — The Oneida City Police Department proposes to focus on community involvement and additional training for officers on de-escalation strategies for crisis intervention as part of its state-mandated police reform plan.

For the last few months, the Oneida City Police Department and the Police Reform Committee have worked to craft the plan to meet the requirement, outlined in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order of June 12, 2020.

Municipalities across the state are required to submit their plans to the state by April 1.

A public hearing was to be held on Tuesday at the Common Council meeting, but while no residents signed up to speak, officials said there was significant public input both online and in person as the Police Reform Committee worked on the plan.

Police Chief John Little said he was thankful for the public’s involvement from the start of the process through the unveiling of the plan. After evaluating the department and based on public input, the Oneida City Police Department has identified three main areas of focus, Little said.

The three major focus areas include:

Pursuit of state law enforcement accreditation for the department, bringing about a comprehensive review and update of current policy and procedures, and the development of new minimum standards on training, administration and operations;

Enhancing the department’s relationship with the Madison County Office of Mental Health, including the training of officers in de-escalation strategies for crisis intervention; and

A commitment to allocate more resources for community involvement and partnerships with the Oneida School District, including increased bike patrols as staffing allows and coordination to encourage and develop positive interaction with officers.

Mental health is a big part of this plan, but it’s always been important to the Police Department, Little said.

“We’ve started partnering with the Madison County Office of Mental Health and identifying problem areas and ways we can address them,” Little continued. “A police officer shouldn’t be handling everything. Services like the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team through Liberty Resources are there to help address the actual need right now.”

But with the new goals in mind, the Oneida City Police Department will not only continue to utilize the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team but also ensure its officers are trained should the need arise.

Residents can still make their thoughts on the plan known, officials said. Oneida Mayor Helen Acker has instituted a public comment time before each Common Council meeting to address concerns within the community, and the Oneida City Police Department will continue to take public comments and questions through social media.

The next Common Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the Kallet Civic Center.

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