Binghamton City Council Passes Contested Police Reform Plan

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The Binghamton City Council passed a resolution to adopt the city’s much-debated Police Reform and Reinvention Plan, 5-2, Monday night.

The two council members opposed to the plan were North Side and Downtown representative Aviva Friedman and Angela Riley, whose district encompasses neighborhoods on the West Side and north of Main Street.

Riley, who is the sole Black person on the council, said the actions taken by city leaders on both the plan’s steering committee and the council appeared to simply “check a box.”

The Binghamton City Council passed a resolution to adopt the city’s police reform plan on Monday. (screen grab, Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

“Much of what we do here is performative,” Riley said. “Make them think we’re doing it so they can keep moving. And I’ve had enough.”

Riley said that includes the public comment at the meeting’s start, opened to give time to those who were not able to speak at the public hearing on the plan last week. City Council President Sophia Resciniti cut that one short, citing profanity by callers.

Commenters criticized the planning process. They said it was rushed and doesn’t do much to reimagine the police force.

One, Katie Brandow-Tunstall, suggested ways the police can partner with community organizations to better respond to mental health crises.

“We don’t need armed people showing up in a crisis with guns and other weapons,” Brandow-Tunstall said. “It’s scary, it’s scary to the people that are going through the crisis and it’s scary to the neighborhood that’s involved.”

Rebecca Rathmell, a Binghamton resident and housing advocate, noted how the Finn Institute’s analysis of arrests and use of force identified racial disparities in the city’s policing. In many cases, Black residents were overrepresented by nearly three times their share of the Binghamton population.

“That is no small fact at all,” Rathmell said. “I think the passion that so many folks spoke with last week demonstrated that.”

Even after the public comment, the city council was not able to amend the plan presented to them by the steering committee. South Side Councilman Phil Strawn, however, said the plan should be seen as only the start of this process.

“Why can’t we foster a conversation and continue the conversation? What we have to send to the governor’s office is due by Thursday,” Strawn said. “One of the callers tonight said, ‘Go back to the drawing board.’ Well, we simply can’t go back to the drawing board right now. It’s not possible.”

Cities that do not adopt a police reform plan by April 1, as outlined in the state’s guidance, risk losing state funding.

Still, Riley and Friedman questioned whether the community’s voice will be heard as it develops further. Despite promises to involve the community, Riley raised concerns that the initiative’s future isn’t clear.

“So when is the next meeting? What is the next step?” she asked before voting against the plan. “We don’t have that.”

Councilmember Joe Burns, who served on the plan’s steering committee, promised to include community input in the next steps and was conflicted about whether to vote for the plan.

He said he consulted his Black colleagues on the steering committee, including Nicole Johnson, President of the Broome-Tioga NAACP, Rev. Mario Williams of River of Life Ministries and Rev. Henry Ausby Hands of Hope Ministries, and they all encouraged him to vote in favor of the plan.

“I think that this is the beginning, and I want everybody in the community to hold me to it, I challenge you to hold me to it as we move forward,” said Burns, who is running for mayor this year.

Current Mayor Rich David released a statement applauding “bipartisan approval” of the plan.

“Binghamton’s is the most comprehensive and robust plan that’s been approved locally, with recommendations for substantive improvements to the Police Department that will create lasting, positive change,” David wrote.

He said he will immediately submit the plan and associated city council resolution to the governor.