Following the horrific death of George Floyd last May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 203 to reform the practices of police departments across New York State. This directive required all governmental entities with a police agency to conduct a comprehensive audit of their police policies and procedures and then create a reform plan to be ratified by each legislative body by April 1, 2021.
Historically, our nation has failed communities of color in facilitating justice and addressing the implications of systemic racism, but here in Suffolk County, we are committed to taking action. The Suffolk County Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force, assembled by county executive Steve Bellone, convened to do just that. The Task Force, on which I had the honor of serving, created a plan for reforming policing in Suffolk County and was adopted by the legislature on March 30, 2021. This working document is the first step in addressing far-reaching inequities and eliminating racial disparities. As we shift our focus to codifying these changes, I want to highlight some of the most meaningful measures outlined in this plan.
First and foremost, the plan includes implementing body cameras for public-facing police officers as part of their uniform requirements. The members of the task force and advocates in the community made it clear that this had to be a part of the finalized plan, and we believe that these cameras will help us more fully understand what occurs on a day-to-day basis in our police force.
The plan also includes measures to increase de-escalation training techniques and procedures, which will better equip officers to handle incidents without utilizing force.
Notably, the plan includes creating a Civilian Oversight Review Process managed by the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. The commission will be responsible for the initial complaint intake and can follow the Internal Affairs Bureau’s investigation in real-time. If the human rights investigator feels that the bureau isn’t handling the matter with integrity, they can bring the case to the human rights commissioner, the police commissioner, the county executive or the legislature for further action.
Another essential component of the reform plan is the prohibition of consent-driven vehicle searches during traffic stops, which is critical to eliminating disparity and racial profiling. The plan also calls for creating two online dashboards so that the public can easily access statistics on traffic and pedestrian stops by police precinct and geographic area. Upon initiating a traffic, pedestrian, or bicycle stop, officers will now be required to identify themselves and provide a reason for the stop.
In the future, those seeking assistance by calling 911 with mental health crises that are not a threat to themselves or others will be diverted to mental health service agencies instead, who are better suited to get them the help they need.
Other noteworthy highlights include:
●Improving language access and updating the current Language Access Plan.
●Enhanced oversight of no-knock warrants, including creating an After-Action Data Portal
●Creating Precinct Level Advisory Boards.
●Developing policies for respecting and interacting with the gender-expansive community.
While we recognize that the fight for equity and justice in policing is far from finished, creating and implementing these policies and procedures is an earnest first step in the right direction. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done in the last year. I look forward to a continuing dialogue and direct legislative action in addressing systemic racism and biased policing in Suffolk County.
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