Poughkeepsie council passes Right to Know act

Armed suspect arrested in Poughkeepsie. (File photo provided by Alexander Robinson.)

POUGHKEEPSIE – The nine members of the Poughkeepsie Common Council unanimously passed the “Right to Know” law on Monday night, requiring the city’s police officers to hand out business cards to individuals with whom they interact.

Council Chairperson Sarah Salem said that the estimated cost for the program is $1,200 and funding will come from the police budget. After the Monday night meeting, the council adjourned for six weeks of recess.

The Right to Know change to the current local law would require police officers to provide business card identification that includes the officer’s name and details on how to file a complaint, and a written record of the interaction after the officer verbally explains the reason for the interaction. That information is currently captured on the body cameras worn by every uniformed officer. That program went into effect in January of this year. (Mid-Hudson News coverage of the BWC program can be found here.)

When the bill was brought up, Councilman Matthew McNamara questioned Chairperson Salem’s potential conflict of interest that might prohibit Salem from voting.  “I have to ask the hard questions,” said McNamara.  The eighth ward representative said that several of his constituents are concerned with Salem’s recent arrest, a February 26 DWI that involved a car accident with another vehicle, and they think that Salem should refrain from voting on police-related issues. When asked if Salem felt there was a conflict, the chairperson responded with “no”.  Pressing the issue, when McNamara then asked Salem about the concerns expressed by city residents regarding a conflict, Salem said, “I don’t believe their concerns are founded and I don’t have a conflict.”

Councilwoman Yvonne Flowers said that in order for the Right to Know law to work, “We need everyone on board,” prior to casting her vote in favor of the law that has been under consideration for more than three years.

In a previous briefing, Police Chief Tom Pape told the council, “At the end of the day, if the council wants us to hand out business cards, our officers will hand out business cards.”

Salem said that the Right to Know will “create trust, communication, and transparency between our community and our force.”

Mayor Rob Rolison weighed in on the passage of the law, saying “Our officers have long-established community relations and involvement.  This is another commitment to that relationship.  My hope is that the members of this council that don’t make the effort to understand the difficulties of being a police officer, do so.”

Salem’s February arrest is the councilor’s second arrest for DWI.  The first DWI Salem faced was an arrest by the State Police in Wappingers Falls in January of 2017, as reported here.  The 2020 incident occurred in February but the pandemic delayed Salem’s arraignment until last week.

Mid-Hudson News has learned that Sarah Salem was also arrested by the City of Poughkeepsie police following a disturbance in 2013.  At the 4:42 a.m. incident, Salem allegedly placed her hands on the responding officer and was subsequently charged with obstruction of governmental administration.  Salem has refused to respond to multiple requests seeking comment on that.  The records for the case have been “sealed,” according to police officials.  The incident occurred at an apartment on Mill Street.  The female that called in the complaint refused to sign a complaint against Salem for the disturbance.



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