Salamanca area police agencies hold reinvention collaborative public forum

Officer-in-Charge Jamie Deck (standing) of the Salamanca Police Department talks about the role of the police in the community during a public forum Tuesday at the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Administration Building.

SALAMANCA — Representatives from the three law enforcement agencies in and around the city of Salamanca gathered Tuesday for a reinvention collaborative forum open to comments and suggestions from the public.

Held at the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Administration Building, officers from the Salamanca Police and Seneca Nation Marshal’s and Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s offices welcomed the community, explaining what it is their agencies do and answered any questions the public had about changes they could make.

It’s all part of a process police executives across New York state are initiating to find ways to forge better relationships with the communities their departments patrol with guidance from a 135-page state manual promoting a “reinvention” of policies.

“What we are here today to do, and I think it’s a heck of an idea, is reach out to you, our community, and ask what you want of your police,” said Mayor Michael Smith, who served as emcee. “We serve you. We all work for you. What kind of police service do you want?”

Smith said the purpose of the meeting would be to foster trust, fairness and legitimacy within communities; to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color; and facilitate law enforcement success in protecting the public through police-community relationships.

From the Salamanca Police Department, Officer-in-Charge Jamie Deck explained some of what the department does in the city, primarily traffic control, crime investigation, assisting the drug task force and court security, among other duties.

“We hope to get some ideas on a different type of enforcement or maybe some different programs we can run in the city,” he said.

Cattaraugus County Sheriff Tim Whitcomb said the sheriff’s office represents the entirety of the county through several responsibilities, including the county jail, civil law, legal administrative services, crime investigation, daily patrol, communication services and projects.

“I like the approach that we’re taking here tonight,” he said. “I think it’s important you all know what direction we’re heading and you need to know a little bit of a baseline of what roles we do serve in the community.”

Chief Marshal Brandon Crouse for the Seneca Nation said that all three departments work well together in order to provide as much public service and safety to everyone in the community and that it likely wouldn’t happen without that cooperation.

“I want to commend everybody from all of our departments and the community to work together, because that’s what it’s going to take in order to make this a safer place, and that’s all of our goal,” he said. “Let’s continue to work together, and this is a small step in that direction.”

Several of the questions asked during the public comment pertained to understanding the cultural differences between Natives and non-Natives, such as pulling someone over for having an eagle feather hanging from their rear-view mirror or ceremonial tobacco in their vehicle. A couple of attendees wondered if there was any cultural diversity training for officers to better understand the Seneca people.

“I presume if we go through it a lot, there would be a lot of other things these police officers don’t understand about us,” one Seneca woman said. “I think this collaborative is a good chance to put in some of these reforms and address the needs.”

Another attendee asked if this dedication to changes would continue in the new year following the November election and two new administrations in the city and the Nation.

“We worked together so well together in the last four years, the city and the Seneca Nation. I agree with you, let’s not drop this,” Smith said. “I don’t see why it couldn’t happen, I don’t see why it won’t happen.”

Other attendees asked about seeing the officers out in the community more, whether through attending public events or patrolling on foot by talking to people on the sidewalks or in the stores rather than in their cars.

One way the departments are attempting to improve relations with the community is through the School Resource Officer Program. Supervisor Brandon Walters said part of their role in the schools is as teachers and counselors as a way to reach out to the community through the kids. He said officers rarely ever act as a law enforcement officer in the schools.

Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong said he would like to see more representatives from the Seneca Nation on the city’s police commission, as well as in more city commissions and departments overall. Smith said there are currently two Senecas on the police commission and many more working in multiple departments in the city than when he first took office.

Another attendee said she would like to see the city and county departments better understand and enforce the laws of the Seneca Nation in addition to the state and federal laws in order to establish reciprocity between the departments.

Smith said there were a lot of great comments and questions raised during the meeting and the departments will work on setting up another meeting soon to continue the discussions and keep the collaborative initiative rolling.

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)