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Village Addresses Recommendations for Police Reform

PathWhat measures can be taken to address race-based policing and the disproportionate harm inflicted upon communities of color by law enforcement agencies? In the wake of the death of a long list of unarmed people of color, killed in New York State and around the country, in June 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order #203 titled the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. This order is intended to address the race-based policing practices engrained in our law enforcement agencies. As part of the order, all local New York State governments were asked to review the needs of their community with respect to policing, examine current policing policies and practices, and develop recommendations based on current needs and best-practices.

The order cites eight New Yorkers and 12 individuals from out-of-state, all of whom were unarmed civilians of color who were killed during interactions with law enforcement. These New Yorkers including Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zango, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Patrick Dorismond, Akai Gurley, and Eric Garner, and the out-of-state individuals included Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Antwon Rose Jr., Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.

To comply, the Village of Scarsdale created the Police Reform and Reinvention Committee, which is chaired by Scarsdale resident Robert Tucker. After reviewing the current state of the Scarsdale Police Department and speaking with participants, officers, key stakeholders, and community members, the committee created a report that can be found in full HERE.

The report was put together by Scarsdale Village Deputy Manager Robert Cole. On February 9, 2021, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees held a meeting via Zoom to review the key takeaways and highlights from the report.

The following are the recommendations in the report made by the committee. They were reviewed by Scarsdale Police Chief Andrew Matturro.

1. Routinely publish police data to increase transparency
a. Reinforce trust, and promote police personnel awareness of the need to support established goals and objectives intended to ensure policing that is fair, safe, and effective for all, the Police Reform and Reinvention Committee recommends increased sharing of information relative to police-citizen encounters, activities, public relation information, arrests and accompanying data, e.g., implementation of a web-based dashboard or similar approach to providing community access to the Department's performance.

2. Support training and advocate for county social services unit
a. To provide the specialized skills necessary to engage persons experiencing a mental health crisis, the Committee recommends that Scarsdale PD continue to receive appropriate in-service training, including necessary de-escalation methods. Of equal importance, the Committee suggests advocating for Westchester County to activate a specialized mental health intervention unit that can be called upon 24/7 for mental health emergencies. The unit should be adequately staffed to provide response times commensurate with the need to respond under emergency circumstances.

3. Seek governmental and public consensus regarding police in schools
a. As noted, the question of shifting to a more robust police presence in local public schools is a complex one and is beyond the scope of this Committee’s charge. There are significant budgetary and operational implications; the merits and drawbacks must be adequately understood and publicly vetted.

4. Validate community policing best management practices (BMPs) and educate the public
a. Community Policing principles are integrated into Scarsdale PD's policies, training, and protocols. However, there appears to be an opportunity for further progress in formalizing the Department's commitment, particularly in the area of educating the public about its efforts. Doing so could enhance an already outstanding reputation within the community for policing excellence.

5. Update training program to recognize and avoid racism and bias in policing
a. While the Scarsdale Police Department maintains rigorous standards and protocols to reduce the likelihood of racism and/or bias in policing, new police training opportunities have arisen in the wake of recurring incidents involving the death or murder of persons of color during interactions with police officers. Scarsdale PD should aggressively pursue training in topics such as Implicit Bias, Micro-Aggressions, Racial Profiling, and Procedural Justice.
b. On this point, Police Chief Matturro specifically mentioned groups such as the Westchester-Rockland Guardians Association and the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association as organizations that the police department would like to receive input from. The Westchester-Rockland Guardians Association is an organization that provides a base for minority officers to address their needs, the needs of the community, and have representation in all ranks of law enforcement. The Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association is an organization dedicated to inspiring, instructing, and creating the future leaders of law enforcement throughout Westchester County.

6. Increase and broaden de-escalation training
a. Traditionally, police departments have focused on Use of Force and when to escalate to secure the safety of the officer and individual being engaged. Such training is necessary, of course, but in some ways minimizes the importance of de-escalation strategies in resolving problems without the use of force. To better balance the two approaches and highlight the inherent value of de-escalation as a pre-cursor to use of force, the Committee recommends increasing the quality and amount of De-Escalation training.
b. On this point, Police Chief Matturro highlighted that committee members expressed a strong desire for these trainings to receive the same emphasis and urgency as firearms training, and that the police department supports this notion.

7. Strengthen and expand faith-based community relationships
a. Consider strengthening and expanding relationships with the faith-based community, which can be instrumental in cultivating even higher levels of community trust, cooperation, and support.
b. When speaking to this recommendation, Police Chief Matturro noted that the department has already begun working with various community Rabbis and Reverends in the hopes of building a strong Hope Not Handcuffs program. This program targets people suffering from substance abuse and hopes to divert them from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs.

8. Consider creating an independent use of force review board
a. Consider creation of an independent review board that examines occurrences of Use of Force and or misconduct. If feasible, other officers should be involved in the process as a way to heighten awareness of the process and administrative implications of Use of Force. DCJS conducts such reviews and may be a resource for this need.

9. Purchase and deploy body cameras
a. It was noted that the Scarsdale Police Department is committed to continuous learning and adaptation to evolving regulatory requirements, policing best practices, and community needs. To that end, and as body-worn cameras have proven to be valuable tools supporting ethical, equitable law enforcement, the Committee recommended that the Scarsdale Police Department purchase and deploy body cameras. In follow-up, Scarsdale PD has already requested FY 2021-22 funding to equip all sworn officers with bodyworn cameras. To ensure their proper deployment and effective utilization, SPD is in the process of developing the appropriate G.O. and supporting program implementation and oversight

After Police Chief Matturro presented each of the committee’s recommendations, Board members had an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the report. Trustee Lena Crandall followed up on Recommendation #2 and suggested that the Board of Trustees consider a resolution to support the creation of a mental health intervention unit. She also mentioned that the request to purchase and deploy body cameras was “favorably considered by the Village Board and will likely be included in the final budget.”

Trustee Jonathan Lewis asked Police Chief Matturro specifically about the resources that might exist within the village to support the idea of having a county social services unit. Chief Matturro responded that although Westchester used to have crisis response teams that deployed in various situations, funding for the program ran out several years ago. As a result, this responsibility fell on police officers, who are not trained mental health professionals. Chief Matturro mentioned that a similar system could be reinstated. Additionally, within the police department, he mentioned that officers should continue to receive up-to-date and intensive training. This training will ensure that officers understand a situation before going into it to minimize the possibility of an officer overreacting or taking a situation out of context.

Trustee Seth Ross pointed out an inconsistency in the report regarding the use of chokeholds. On page 11, the report states that chokeholds are prohibited except in situations of deadly force, while on page 28 it states that the use of chokeholds is strictly prohibited by law and officers have not been trained in their use. Ross asked if there would ever be a situation with the Scarsdale Police where this technique would be employed. Chief Matturro said the department is not trained in the use of the chokehold, and that in a situation where either an officer or a third-party civilian was about to be killed, any technique that would prevent this death would be permitted. He emphasized however, that the department is not trained in chokeholds, and that he believes that the training, equipment, and tactics available to the Scarsdale Police are sufficient to prevent officers from ever employing the chokehold technique.

Trustee Justin Arest worried about privacy concerns related to body cameras and asked Chief Matturro how these concerns would be addressed. Chief Matturro responded that he too struggled with this question and noted that for this to work effectively without invading privacy, proper procedures, follow-up responses, and disciplinary actions must be instated. Chief Matturro also noted that there are best practices available for police departments and that in certain situations, if you can document a valid legal reason why it was done, officers can turn off cameras to ensure the public’s privacy. He added that there are several departments in Westchester that are now turning to body cameras, and that the governor is mandating State police to wear them as well. Finally, Chief Matturro stated that these cameras are a good tool in terms of holding officers accountable and being transparent to the public.

Finally, Trustee Randall Whitestone asked Police Chief Matturro about where he will turn for de-escalation and anti-racism training. Chief Matturro stated that the department will primarily be looking to New York State for guidance, as well as for recommendations from CALEA (the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies), the Westchester Guardians, the Hispanic Law Enforcement Association, and other Westchester-based organizations that focus on de-escalation and anti-racism in law enforcement.

Chief Matturro closed his remarks saying he would like to see this conversation continue and that it cannot be a "one and done thing." He also said that "what is important is the time in between the pendulum swing – we don't want to let one event drive us, but rather work in the in-between moments… this committee was amazing, and I want to see an advisory council of this type looking at police encounters before they become a problem so we can avoid these issues.”

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