Mayor-elect Rob Rolison discusses local crime rates

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courtesy of Rob Rolison

In the last issue of The Miscellany News, an analysis of Mayor-Elect of the City of Pough­keepsie Rob Rolison’s policies and plans for Poughkeepsie’s future explored Vassar students and faculty’s’ reactions. Consideration of the discussions of the challenges facing Poughkeep­sie was meant to raise further questions and awareness of some of the debates surrounding issues in Poughkeepsie. This interview was an opportunity for Rolison to respond to the opin­ions and discussions at Vassar. Questions were meant to both allow him to respond to opposing points of view and for him to offer his own ideas.

Q: What are the main issues you think are im­portant to address during your mayoral tenure?

Well I can tell you, not only from my own personal thoughts and understanding of the city that I live in, but also from what I heard on the campaign trail for all these months, is public safety…the fear of crime and just the fear of not feeling safe…

The fiscal situation of the city…is dire…

The relationship between the mayor and the city council, which in [Mayor John Tkazyik’s] administration has not been very good, and has really hampered a lot of the ability to work together on challenges and also move the city forward…The transparency and communication of city government and its residences and to res­idents and business owners. But also…the trans­parency between the administration and the city council…If you don’t feel safe in the communi­ty, it doesn’t really matter what else goes on. I made that point; I think it resonated with a lot of folks…We have to make sure that the public has that comfort level, that business people have that comfort level…It’s not a matter of just cops. It’s the community working together and ad­dressing not only crime issues. You have to fight crime, but there’s also the other part of this–the prevention of crime–and there are all the things that go into making a community less safe or more safe. And it’s a very universal effort.

Q: Where would you like the relationship be­tween Vassar and the community to be? What further actions or interactions would you like to see enacted by Vassar students?

We’ve got some of the finest higher educa­tion institutions in the country within a quarter of a mile of the City of Poughkeepsie. We have to make use of that…There’s no shortage of help that’s needed. There’s also no shortage of man­power here on this campus that could,…given the right circumstances and coordination, assist on a variety of levels. I see the natural link be­tween the education that is going on here on this campus and how that can be brought into the City of Poughkeepsie, or the City of Poughkeep­sie brought here. Either way, share those experi­ences…share your educational background and mentoring [with] younger people and…show­case higher education. Bringing people from the city, to Vassar, to Marist, to D.C.C., shows individuals [from the community] that there are other things that you can do. It doesn’t necessar­ily have to be a college; it could be employers; it could be other organizations.

Q: Some at Vassar see the new jail being built in the City of Poughkeepsie as an indication that Dutchess County is not moving toward alterna­tive solutions to incarceration. Where do you stand on this issue?

The Dutchess County jail is undersized for the population that currently needs to reside in it. We have spent close to 40 million dollars in housing our inmates. The last time there was an expansion of the jail was in 1994, and it was overcrowded the day that they turned the key on the new facility. So we have been getting a variance from the state of New York from the Commission of Correction…They are the ulti­mate authority when it comes to jails, because jails are state mandates on counties…

We’re spending seven, eight, nine million dol­lars a year on transportation, on housing out [of county]…They’re not getting the services that they deserve; they don’t have access to their lawyers; they don’t have access to their families. The court system slows down; the entire crim­inal justice system slows down; people could conceivably spend more time awaiting their fate in the criminal justice system…Given the sta­tistics of the size of the county, we incarcerate less people in the jail per 100,000 [than] almost any county in the state of New York, so it’s not that people are just being locked up. It isn’t that way. So if you take that number–1,000 people in the system–which means this is 1,000 peo­ple who have been arrested and are now going through the court system. 500 of those people are on alternatives to incarceration. They’re out on A.T.I.s. Dutchess County has one of the most robust and nationally recognized alternatives to incarceration systems in the country. [The pro­bation department] is nationally recognized… Our probation officers are in the [facility] gym every day looking to pull people out of it be­cause we know it cuts down on costs. We can put people into programs and service, and then we can cut down on recidivism…It’s not a jail, it’s a correctional and transitional facility that is go­ing to be the first of its kind in the state of New York. We’re in the process now of constructing a crisis diversion center to divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues before they even get to the jail…I would envision people from the colleges helping with things that go on inside that facility–especially when it comes to education.

Q: Do you have any further comments?

One of the things that’s so important for gov­ernment and a college campus is that dialogue: between the taxpayers [and government]…[and] the students with their government officials with the administrators of this campus. So you have dialogue. You make better decisions. Bet­ter public dialogue always leads to better public policy decisions. And it’s not always the case, because a lot of times dialogue is tough to come by; it’s sometimes tough to initiate. And one of the things I hope that we’re going to do in this city government moving forward is we’re going to have a lot more interaction with the public…

 

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