During what was a normal evening in March for most residents in Binghamton, NY, an open to the public Board meeting discussing improving the relations of college students, native residents, and the Binghamton Police occurred. It was not an unusual meeting, and all present had met in similar meetings several times prior on the same subjects. But there was a unique tone that came about in this meeting that stood out from meetings prior.
In this meeting, as was discussed on the NO Soubdbites Allowed podcast of March 31, 2018, a member of the Binghamton University administration was present and suggested a controversial statement. That representative felt that on any given night there was more fear, while walking through the City, of the Police than of criminals. This comment was stated as a factual ideology shared by all People of Color. It caused an uproar among those present.
The rest of that conversation can be heard on the podcast, but one of the results was a request to ride along with Binghamton Police officers to see the reality of what officers do. That offer was extended to all present in the meeting. The request was welcomed, and open to a date and time of our choosing [we are unaware of Binghamton University or its representative accepting this offer at this time]. No restrictions nor conditions were made to M V Consulting on this ride along.
On June 8, 2018, M V Consulting took up the offer of the Binghamton Police Department. The ride along started from 4pm and lasted the full shift until 11pm. We accompanied 2 officers from the Community Response Team, which is comprised of officers native to Binghamton. We want to thank the Binghamton Police Department, and the officers we met, for their honesty, directness, and access we were provided.
First, before we discuss the ride along, we want to address concerns some residents of the Binghamton community mentioned to us about this event. We feel confident that, like several other news organizations, there was nothing hidden nor denied to us in our ride along. We can confidently and absolutely state that no prior notice nor indication of the questions we asked officers were provided before utterance and no alteration to this article was requested nor made. We were given a tour of the police station located at Binghamton City Hall, without restriction or condition. In all, we were able to speak with and observe 10 officers throughout the shift.
We add that only one officer had prior interactions with M V Consulting and Michael Vasquez. None of the interactions involved any political element. Those interactions revolved around several of the non-profit Boards that we have covered and Michael Vasquez is part of. That officer was not part of the ride along.
As for the ride along itself, it was a relatively quiet warm spring evening. The patrol covered the entire City of Binghamton, as is the normal routine for the Community Response Team. While there is a normal emphasis of patrol on well-reported higher crime zones within Binghamton, all parts of the community were constantly covered.
There were several incidents that we observed officers conduct. There was the assisting of other officers in a traffic stop. Four residents of the City were stopped. Their ages ranged from the mid-20’s to mid-40’s. The vehicle was searched, as were the individuals, and questions asked. They had a small dog with them.
The incident was uneventful. The younger residents were calm. They spoke with officers, smiling and joking at points during the stop. They sat safely beside the road and had a cigarette over the course of the process. The only moments of minor tension observed were from one of the older individual who offered mild verbal resistance to officers as he was not pleased about having been stopped. Officers explained, more than once, the reason for the stop and the procedure being undertaken.
Another incident of note was a vehicle stop to investigate a potential warrant violation. A vehicle associated with an individual wanted under warrant for arrest as stated over the police radio earlier in the shift was spotted late in the night. The individuals in the vehicle were questioned on the whereabouts of the suspect and released without further action upon verification of identities. The individual comments were noted and police dispatch was updated about what had occurred immediately.
Lastly, perhaps the most involved incident of the evening. While on roaming patrol, we observed with the officers a vehicle at a stop light. As we passed the vehicle we were surprised by the obvious and very loud argument occurring in the vehicle. Officers turned around, caught up with the vehicle, and stopped beside it. The question asked by officers still in their vehicle was simply, “Is everything alright?”
The female driver was clearly distraught and crying. The child we could then see in the back seat was also visibly distraught and crying. The male, in the passenger seat of the vehicle immediately stated all was ok, and exited the vehicle.
This directly odd behavior, and the emotional condition of the child and female driver, caused the officers to exit the vehicle and investigate further. While the male tried to suggest the incident was merely an argument without need of further review, officers checked the identity of those involved and the vehicle registration. It was determined that the male had an active order of protection against him, and was subsequently charged and arrested. The male offered no resistance to officers as he was brought into the precinct.
The male was processed, where it was found that multiple prior arrests and felonies had been committed. A meal was ordered for this suspect and another that arrived at the station while the paperwork was processed as we observed. The meals were ordered as the suspects could not be seen by a judge until Saturday morning as it was evening already. The male suspect was visible at all times on monitors within the station that we were able to observe clearly.
While these were some of the observed facts of note during the ride along, perhaps more important was the conversation that we had with the officers. There is no way to properly summarize the breadth of the conversation and topics discussed. The officers were open and forthright with us. We discussed not only questions about being a police officer, but their lives and experiences, preferences in sports, favorite drinks and activities, restaurants in the region, politics, and the community at large.
At this point we want to address something that likely has caught the attention of readers. At no point have we mentioned the names of the officers involved and met during the ride along. Equally the race and sex of virtually any individual except explicitly for Michael Vasquez has been without description. This is very purposive. Nothing has been altered, save removal of specific names, races and sex where possible. All quotes are word for word, all events exactly as witnessed.
The officers we were with have both been with the Binghamton Police Department for 3 years. One is over 30 and the other in the 20’s. Neither had prior military service and both are native residents of Binghamton. They have families in the region. They have friends in the community, which is a good and bad thing. One of the officers shared how he had to arrest a high school friend of his at one point in his career. It’s this challenge of being an officer, the public image and the private life reality, that few ever discuss and social media ignores completely.
While there is a human story that needs to be shared, in this article we are focusing on the duties of the officers, the reality of what they do opposed to the impression spread by individuals like the Binghamton University representative. Both officers are members of the Community Response Team, which focuses on street level narcotics, prostitution, and City Ordinance investigations, besides called in tips from residents on various issues and infractions.
One of the things we discussed was how parts of the community relate to the officers. We often see on social media accusations of police abuse from across the nation – though not in Binghamton – which has nationally influenced interactions with police officers and departments. Such edited clips and meme-based hyperbole is often used by certain organizations, like Black Lives Matters (which exists in Binghamton along with Antifa) in small rallies and highly exclusionary meetings like the one we reported on in October 2017. But what is rarely seen or even asked is how police officers feel and how such racially tinged rhetoric affects their duties.
Thus we asked the officers about their experience, how do they perceive interactions with the community – especially in high crime areas. The officers stated that it’s a difficult question, with many factors, and no clear answer. But they also shared,
“People will call for help and you get there and they want to argue with you about what it is you are doing or how you are doing the job you are doing when you are trying to de-escalate the situation and resolve the problem. Having the community assist with stuff like that, the perceptions of police, is definitely something we are striving to do.”
We spoke to the officers about the traffic stop we noted before. We asked if this was a routine stop and what helps to keep the interaction with the public so calm as opposed to the sensational video clips promoted by some across social media.
Officer 1: “We actually, as a unit, because of the way we police we kind of make observations before we make traffic stops to try to calm the people down. A lot of them even sometimes ask us for cigarettes. Some of our vehicles have lighters and cigarettes in them [confiscated from arrests, as contraband is not allowed in jails] to give to the people so that they feel like we’re more personable.”
Officer 2: “If they smoke we let them smoke. It has a calming effect and they associate it with that. So if they are kinda able to get through the course of the investigation by being calm, that’s ideal for everybody.”
MV: “That’s usually the best. If everyone is being calm then life is pretty good. But it’s when everyone gets a little more agitated that’s where the problems come from?”
Officer 2: “It ends up a lot of the time impeding and elongating the investigation more than it has to be. It’s gonna happen one way or another. It just takes it the wrong route sometimes if everybody is not calm so that’s usually paramount on all our stops… getting someone to conversate to be calm.”
Perhaps another of the least publicly asked questions for police officers is what could be something that the public can do to improve safety for all and interactions? It’s a question that was asked at the Board meeting in March that led to this ride along event, and this time we asked the officers we were traveling with.
Officer 1: “To help us with our job is to not let things go unreported. Some of the community thinks that something they see that is suspicious is gonna be a waste of our time. If they called every time they see something suspicious, we don’t mind going. And if they did it I think it would help somewhat, because we can’t be everywhere all the time cause technically we are just one guy in one car most of the time.”
Officer 2: “Another thing would be to inform themselves better on what it is police do and how we operate. That would be ideal for citizens to understand how we approach situations and how we operate. How we deal with things.”
Of course one of the elephants in the room is the question of involvement and membership of minorities in the police force. It’s an issue for much of the nation, and in Binghamton. We have discussed this in the past with Lt. Alan Quinones, and other City officials, who all stated a desire to increase representation. We asked the officers in the ride along about minority representation, and how it might be improved.
MV: “I know that this something that is wanted, I wonder if you know anything that can be done to try and promote that. If you have any ideas?”
Officer 1: “I think that they’ve exhausted a lot of the avenues that I could come up with. I know that they offered to give a test preparation to any minority that wanted to show up. I know that they’ve tried recruiting in neighborhoods. I don’t think that they have any more ideas on how they can help that. I think they have done a good job of attempting, to help that, but I just couldn’t think of another idea.”
Towards the end of the shift, 8 hours for our coverage but a double shift for the officers – who had previously covered the graduation ceremonies in Binghamton, having lunch with several officers and learning about these officers personal lives, we offered the opportunity to share any final thought or message to the public from these officers patrolling and protecting the public.
Officer 2: “Give respect to get respect. I mean that’s probably the best way I can think of.”
Far too often any discussion of police in America is framed in a conversation of race or gender. In doing so such conversation introduces misperceptions and biases based in the personal emotional beliefs of both the writer and the reader. But we felt that such a framing of the ride along and interactions with Binghamton police officers would be a disservice to readers and the police department.
The question that we came to try to observe and answer is if the Binghamton police force is inherently unfair with segments of the public. Is there a reason why a Person of Color should fear police officers doing their jobs in Binghamton, NY, as social media and some groups would suggest. Part of that process is that the reader should go back at this point and consider what race and sex did they first imagine each person mentioned in this article. Now go back and reverse the race and sex from what was imagined.
If there is no difference in tone or meaning of anything stated or described, then that is the accurate understanding of what was found. If, in changing the race and/or sex of anyone in this article changes the meaning for the reader – perhaps that is the source of some of the friction between police departments and the public throughout the nation that has caused incidents like in Florida this year.
Ultimately, there was no point in the many hours we spent with police officers in Binghamton, that we were led to believe anything was done to differentiate actions towards any segment of the City of Binghamton. There were no statements in our hours-long in -person conversations to hint at any form of bias.
Of course no absolute answer can be determined by just one event, no matter how long. But in conjunction with other news media sources that have found the same results, we thus conclude, if anyone has a fear of police officers in Binghamton, NY, then that person is the source of such fear. Whether that is due to inappropriate or illegal actions, or bias promoted by social media is for such individuals to determine.
We have been offered, and accept, the opportunity to conduct another ride along in the future at our discretion.