Councilwoman Opposes Hiring of Police Policy Advisory Firm

Peekskill Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo is opposing a request from Police Chief Donald Halmy for the city to hire a company to update the department’s policies and procedures.

Halmy made his pitch to the Common Council during a budget work session last week to approve $38,700 to sign a contract with Lexipol, which he maintained was “pretty much the gold standard” in the industry and was used by many other municipalities in Westchester.

“They use best practices by police agencies all over the country,” Halmy said. “It’s really only going to help us. It’s not going to hurt us.”

However, Agudelo argued Lexipol has been known to push policies that prioritize helping violent police officers avoid discipline instead of increasing police accountability.

Agudelo mentioned Peekskill just finished paying a $125,000 settlement to resolve a brutality complaint received against two of its officers.

“We don’t need policies that decrease our settlement payout amounts, we need policies that will put the financial burden on the individuals causing the harm and stop holding taxpayers hostage to defending their abuse of power,” Agudelo stated. “I think Lexipol is not the direction we should go with. I do think we need to update our handbooks, but I think we need to be strategic in who we choose to invest in.”

Deputy Mayor Vivian McKenzie agreed that the council should look at other companies that provide the same services as Lexipol, remarking, “There are a lot of gold standard companies out there that don’t consider black lives.”

City Manager Andy Stewart noted the contract package proposed by Lexipol includes an abundance of online training for officers that could be beneficial.

At the beginning of the month, Stewart unveiled his proposed $42.5 million tentative budget for 2021. The budget calls for a slight 0.67% tax increase for residents, which would amount to $16 more next year for the average single-family home assessed at $8,000.

“Given the economic hard times provoked by the pandemic, 2021 is a very hard year to consider raising taxes on residents and businesses any more than absolutely necessary,” Stewart stated. “For the same reason, it is a particularly hard year to consider laying off city employees.”

Personnel costs account for almost 80% of expenses in the city budget. The city employs approximately 203 full-time and 22 part-time workers, down from 268 in 2012. In recent months, Peekskill has had a lot of turnover in leadership positions due to retirement or voluntary separation, including the city manager, city clerk, superintendent of recreation, assessor and comptroller.

The tentative budget only proposes adding one full-time position, an assistant planner in the Planning Department. No salary increases are included for any staff, other than positions mandated by previous union contract settlements.

To balance the budget, Stewart is proposing utilizing $1 million in unassigned fund balance, drawing $250,000 from the Tax Stabilization Fund and $750,000 from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund. It is almost twice the amount of fund balance used in 2019. The fund balance at the end of 2020 is projected to be $4.38 million.

The council must approve the budget by December 1.

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