Watertown’s police reform plan lists 8 areas of improvement

WWNY Watertown’s police reform plan lists 8 areas of improvement

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - There’s room to improve at the Watertown Police Department. The city’s proposed police reform plan, released Wednesday, spells out changes the department can make.

Watertown is in the home stretch of reforming its police department, an effort mandated by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

A draft of the plan put together by the city is now available for public input.

“There’s a two week comment period,” said City Manager Ken Mix.

It lists eight areas of improvement. Mix says one in particular sticks out.

“We did find that there’s shortcomings in crisis intervention and the mental health issues,” he said.

The solution: a close partnership with Jefferson County Community Services.

The plan will create a system for officers to virtually reach a trained crisis worker when responding to a mental health call.

Community Services Director Timothy Ruetten says it gives police needed support.

“An officer can talk to the crisis worker, get information how to maybe handle a situation. The crisis worker can also assist in de-escalation,” he said.

The reform plan also calls for officers to receive crisis intervention training, which Ruetten says helps police better determine and address mental health issues.

“Mental health isn’t a crime. But, some of the behaviors that come with metal illness or addiction, can really look like criminal behavior and end up being criminal behavior. So, it’s important that officers be able to determine that quickly, effectively, and compassionately,” he said.

Other recommendations include forming a group of community members to improve police engagement with the public as well as diversity training and body and dash cams.

Mix says the plan could expand the force.

“Suggesting that the four positions that were eliminated in last year’s budget be brought back,” he said.

The deadline to submit a plan to the state is April 1.

The city held listening sessions last month for the public to weigh in on the plan.

People can submit comments on the draft plan (below in full) by March 23 at policereform@watertown-ny.gov.

The plan can also be seen under “press releases” at www.watertown-ny.gov.

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