After a string of recent allegations of police brutality, the Syracuse Common Council's public safety committee called a meeting with Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler.
"I wouldn't say it's a major problem but I wouldn't say it's something that's blown out of proportion either," said Fowler of the accusations of excessive force used by Syracuse Police. "I would say it's something that's been brought to our attention and that we need to pay close attention to it and that's exactly what we intend to do."
Tensions ran high at times in the packed city council chambers. Several attendees held signs with slogans like, "Stop police brutality" and "No one deserves to be beaten." John Johnson, father of allegedpolice brutality victim, Elijah Johnson, was one of two attendees allowed the opportunity to speak at today's meeting.
"We can do better. We have to do better," said Johnson. "I don't want to see people get beat and abused, nor do I want to see police officers attacked or abused."
In response to common councilor questioning, Fowler provided arrest and complaint statistics from 2013. Of the 22,000 arrests made last year, the department received 41 complaints about the use of excessive force. Through July 31 of this year, the Syracuse police department has made 12,365 arrests and received 21 complaints.
Fowler also said that of his 424 officers, more than 90-percent are white, while the force employs just 30 black or African-American officers and seven Hispanic officers.
"I think that we can do a better job to have a police force that's more representative of the city of Syracuse," said Fowler after tonight's meeting.
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 56-percent of the Syraucse population is white, almost 30-percent black or African-American and about 8-percent of the population is Latino.
"The cultural disparity in our police force is big and we can do much better," said public safety committee chair Pamela Hunter. "I think our officers need to live in the city of Syracuse. I think that when you live in the neighborhood you're invested in it and you know the neighbors and that makes people more comfortable."
Chief Fowler also announced that the city has applied for a grant to equip officers with lapel cameras. Though neither a specific amount of money nor number of devices were discussed, both community members and Syracuse police believe recording devices will serve both sides.
"It protects the people and it protects the officers," said Johnson. "We should have had this a while ago, without question."
"That's an important step," added Hunter. "Any kind of tool in the toolbox that the police can have to help to keep them safe and the community safe is worth looking at."
Councilors agreed to schedule a series of neighborhood meetings in the coming months to give community members a chance to voice concerns. Fowler agreed to attend to these meetings as well.