City of Newburgh government leaders have drawn widespread public attention to themselves recently by hiding information about crime and fires from the very same community they are tasked with serving (see series of news articles and editorials here). The real victims in this are the heroes who serve in the City of Newburgh Police and Fire Departments.
City officials may think news stories about arrests and fires are negative, but they are positive. It means the system is working. Police are working hard and actively making arrests to remove lowlife criminals from the streets. Firefighters are risking their own lives and working hard to save lives and property with very limited resources.
Council members and the City Manager should be proud of all the dangerous work their police officers and firefighters enter into when most civilians would be running in the opposite direction. While city leaders are busy trying to improve the image, their attempts are counterproductive. True leaders would realize that when their first responders look good, the city leaders also look good.
Granted, the city government has posted many positive interactions that police officers have with the community. This has included barbecuing for the public during the summer, holding citizens’ police academies, and many more great efforts. This is essential for community relations and should be published. However, when officers are driving into hails of gunfire, they need to be recognized for this too. Depicting their jobs as all fun and glamor diminishes their bravery.
The opposite is true for the firefighters, who rarely enjoy any publicity from the city government showing them engaging in community efforts. Firefighters perform fire prevention details and other important functions when they are not responding to emergencies, but these stories are seldomly published by the City of Newburgh.
The Newburgh News recently reported on several violent crimes that were not reported to the public after city leaders stopped issuing press releases on new crime last October. Also, the city government stopped issuing press releases about fires after the fatal Lander Street inferno last June.
The City Council has bragged about how happy their police officers are when it fits their narrative. But they often complain that too many officers are bailing from the City of Newburgh to take jobs in surrounding municipalities. An anonymous source recently informed The Newburgh News that there are not enough City of Newburgh police officers on duty at any given time. This is something that The Newburgh News will be examining in the coming weeks.
The City Council also slid a new Fire Commissioner post into their upcoming budget and revised the City Charter to reflect it. This came after an entire engine company was closed and four interior firefighters are forced to fend for themselves while crawling through raging fires, sometimes with victims trapped, while their nearest help from other departments may be over 10 minutes away. An incident commander and two apparatus operators remain outside performing their own tasks.
Having a fire commissioner might not be a bad idea when all is right in the fire department, but this clearly is not the right time. When a homeowner’s foundation is crumbling to the ground, the last thing they would do is fill their house with brass decorations. A fire commissioner and all the training they could arrange means nothing if there are not enough firefighters to carry out basic tasks. Training is based on having a full contingency of firefighters, which is not the case in the City of Newburgh. Recently, alert City of Newburgh police officers jumped in and performed basic firefighting tasks at a raging inferno in which there were only a handful of firefighters at the scene.
The low staffing levels at the fire department could easily be resolved if city leaders choose to reopen the closed engine company. While city leaders are busy pointing fingers at the fire union for not agreeing to the terms of a proposed contract, a victim could be killed in a fire at any given moment. The most recent contract sets a minimum staffing level, but nothing is stopping city leaders from exceeding the minimum.
Fires happen in every municipality. It is nothing that politicians should be ashamed of. Information about fires, along with crime that City of Newburgh police officers work hard to confront, should never be censored from the public.
Nor should the public’s voices when they wish to complain about any issues. Several courts have already ruled that government entities cannot censor a citizen’s speech during public meetings. Most recently, a court ruled that another municipality violated the U.S. Constitution by requiring public meetings to be “respectful and courteous, free of rude, personal, or slanderous remarks.” The court determined this cannot be required during a public comment session of a government meeting.
City leaders have drawn too much unnecessary attention in recent months. The best move they could make now would be to correct their mistakes and move on with business as usual. They must stop censoring the public’s criticism (see video below), stop hiding crime and fire information from the public, increase the fire department’s staffing levels as the public has continuously demanded, and certainly stop pointing fingers at everybody else.