On June 19, Mayor Ben Walsh issued the Syracuse Police Reform Executive Order No. 1 Action #15, which calls for the City of Syracuse to “research and consider innovative, community-based strategies for responding to non-criminal calls, with a goal of shifting the paradigm from primary police response, to response by non-police professionals in relevant fields.”

On July 16, Mayor Walsh issued a response to the People’s Agenda for Police Reform. In that response, Mayor Walsh committed to “identifying SPD responsibilities and, where appropriate, spending reallocations and initiating participatory budgeting planning to begin December 1, 2020.”

The following are updates regarding the two central components to Executive Order No. 1 Action #15: Executing a participatory budgeting strategy and redirecting police resources to support alternatives to police response.

Police Response Alternatives

Over the past several months, the City of Syracuse has researched and documented models for alternatives to policing that have been implemented in cities across the country.  

These efforts include but are not limited to:

  • Identify current police responses eligible for non-police response which may include but are not limited to: homelessness, non-criminal mental illness, noise violations, nuisance abatement, and traffic violations.
  • Continued work with Onondaga County to expand the current Crisis Intervention Training to enable informed, safe encounters with citizens with mental health afflictions, substance use and/or developmental disabilities. Due to state funding constraints as a result of COVID19 budget reductions, the focus is to identify resources to support this important program.
  • Identify and implement best practice models for alternative policing, which may include but is not limited to Eugene’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) model, Denver’s Alliance for Street Health Response, and Oakland’s Mobile Assistance Community Responders (MACRO) model.                                                                                                                                                
  • Continue to fund the Trauma Response Team, and other local programs.        

In 2020, the City of Syracuse joined a working group coordinated by the Onondaga County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) which is working to develop a framework for mental health crisis response teams and 911 diversion programs for municipalities in Onondaga County. In addition to the City of Syracuse and the Onondaga County CIT, the working group is composed of members of the New York State Office of Mental Health representatives, the Onondaga County Department of Adult and Long-Term Care, members of local law enforcement agencies, as well as community-based organizations.

However, the framework developed by this working group will need to be tailored to fit the unique needs of the City of Syracuse. Over the coming months, the City will conduct a Citywide survey on community public safety and will be executing outreach to local community based organizations to gather insight into the specific needs of the community as they relate to mental health crisis response as an alternative to police response. The end goal of this plan will be to implement a community-based mental health crisis response network in place of police response for certain 911 calls that fit the criteria of likely being safer and more effective with a non-police response.

Additionally, The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated funding to address community needs and priorities that align with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Public Law 116-136.  As a HUD CDBG grantee, the City of Syracuse will use these funds to address the health and safety needs of our most vulnerable community members to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Neighborhood and Business Development has prioritized the use the CDBG-CV funds to assist low to moderate income households and or individuals under the HUD National Objective: Urgent Need within the following eligible activities:

  • Economic Development 
  • Mental Health Services
  • Tenant/Landlord Counseling 
  • Subsistence Payments

Proposals for Mental Health Services must involve an implementation strategy which includes purposeful partnerships with organizations, community stakeholders or individuals seen as gatekeepers and influencers with the target community to foster proactive street outreach to assist individuals suffering with substance abuse and those battling mental illness.

The initiatives receiving this funding, we anticipate, will identify policies and practices that may serve as another model for future development of programming to address the specific needs of this community.. 

Information on and access to the CDBG-CV application can be found at: http://www.syrgov.net/NBD_Apply_for_funding.aspx

Participatory Budgeting 

The City of Syracuse continues to conduct research and stakeholder engagement on police response alternatives and municipal participatory budgeting frameworks.

On November 23, the Syracuse Common Council approved an agreement with Balancing Act, for use of their online budget simulation tool for the period of one year. Balancing Act provides increased transparency by giving the public a deeper understanding of how public dollars are currently allocated, what outcomes are intended, and it enables residents to express preferences for how dollars should be expended. SPD will be among the first City departments to use Balancing Act with the intent to include most departments during FY22 planning. 

As with municipalities across the country, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made a significant impact on our city’s operational budget. As predicted, contingency budget plans for expense reductions were implemented.  All city departments, including SPD, realized a significant reduction in their budgets totaling $18.3 million dollars. The Syracuse Police Department reduced its annual budget by $6.3 million dollars. These cuts included but were not limited to sworn position reductions, service contracts and overtime allocations. As the country and our city hope to financially recover in the coming years, the city will continue its due diligence as responsible financial steward of the city budget.  

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