SPD: Reckoning and Reform

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Along with most mid-sized cities in the United States, Syracuse, New York is grappling with change to its police department. Change is often driven by events and economics; and shaped by power, protests, and policy. But whether it occurs is ultimately determined by people. This six-part series explores the history and challenges of the SPD as a new police chief attempts to reform the department.


Episode 1
Once a city of prosperity, Syracuse has been affected by practices and policies that have led to a volatile nexus of crime, race, and policing. The effect of I-81 was a diaspora that diminished black political power. A loss of jobs and an automobile culture that took the tax base to the suburbs followed. Can a new police chief become the change agent that the Syracuse Police Department needs?

Episode 2

A police force resistant to change struggles to accept their new chief and his progressive ideas. A fresh-faced class of recruits looks to breathe new life into the department. After six months of classroom training and physical assessment, these new officers can break the mold of the prototypical police officer this city has become so accustomed to.


Episode 3

In an era where misconduct can now be captured with the press of a button, rifts between police and communities across the country have become increasingly prevalent. These rifts came to boiling point at a community forum on Syracuse’s Westside. As tensions rise, new strategies are set in place in hopes to mend fractured relationships and repair policies of the past.


Episode 4

The summer of 2020 saw Covid-19, Black Lives Matter marches, and escalating youth violence. The perception of police highlighted by the George Floyd video caused many officers to feel restrained. The raging virus created a distance between cops and communities. Syracuse community activists lay out their plan for police reform. And a shootout on Syracuse’s Westside shakes the city to the core.

Episode 5

An increase in violent crime becomes evident during a shootout on Syracuse’s Westside. How does a city prevent gang violence from occurring? While there is no perfect answer, new programs and policies are being put in place to reach kids before they join gangs. Hear from those involved in the 2003 RICO sweeps, debate removing SRO’s from schools, and negotiations over a new police contract begin.

Episode 6

It is true that the past informs the present, but it must be the present that informs the future. Today, during a time of continual demographic, technological and economic change, reconciling the interests of a city’s past with the realities of its future is part of the challenge.

Episode 7

We meet some Syracuse city residents to hear their ideas as well as their concerns regarding police/community relations. These meetings also address finding a path forward for youth to refrain from violence. Seven separate forums are held throughout city neighborhoods as well as at the WCNY television studios, highlighting the ideas brought to life by the series.

Pulitzer Center

The Gifford Foundation