The City of Newburgh will soon hire a police commissioner. The plan to create the position was given the blessing of members of the general public, and the formal approval of the city council at its July 12 meeting.
“This is the right step” said Ray Harvey, president of the Newburgh-Highland Falls Chapter of the NAACP. “I hope that we choose the right candidates and that the city council and police that is already here come aboard and get this done the right way.”
Ray Harvey urged the city to bring in someone “from the outside, with no ties to anyone.”
Mayor Torrance Harvey said the creation of the new position was in fulfillment of the Executive Order 203 police reform plan ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. Floyd’s death prompted a nationwide protest and a rise in the Black Lives Matter movement. The city, like most municipalities in the state, created a panel of citizens to come up with ways to reimagine the police department. The panel recommended the creation of a police commissioner who, Mayor Harvey said, would be a part of the city’s executive team, be an ambassador for the city, and change the culture within the current police department so that police-community relationships could be improved.
A police chief would report directly to the commissioner.
While a police chief is normally a certified police officer who has graduated from a police academy, is licensed to carry a weapon and has risen through the police ranks, a police commissioner can be a civilian hired to oversee the police department. At the present, the City of Newburgh Police Department has neither.
The department is currently headed by Lt. Kevin Lahar who assumed the role of acting chief in April, following the retirement of Police Chief Arnold “Butch” Amthor in April, after less than a year on the job.
City council members threw their support behind the charter revision that created a police commissioner.
“In my dream world we would have an overall (public safety) commissioner who would oversee the police and fire department but I will leave that to the next generations,” said Councilwoman Karen Mejia who will vacate her seat on the council at the end of the year. “This is a great idea….this was years in the making.”
Mayor Harvey noted the new faces in City Hall, including a new city manager, comptroller and two female judges, making what he termed an All Star team of rising talent.
“You’re witnessing history in the City of Newburgh,” Mayor Harvey said. “This was a collective effort. I’m very thankful of my colleagues on the council for realizing that part of the reimagining of a new police department includes a police commissioner.”
The mayor said he’s not done reimagining the city’s emergency services.
“Once we get (overtime) down, we can work on diversifying the police and fire department,” he said. “We’re going to get women in that fire department if that’s the last thing I do.”