EDITORIAL: Reinvent the police?

WHICH DID I SEE FIRST? The digital clock on the nightstand or the red-blue-white-red-blue-white police car lights through the bedroom curtains? It was 4:22 a.m. A speeding ticket? No. A second police car pulled up. My wife was at the window. She said the officers were talking to a young woman dressed for indoors, not the mid-20s. An ambulance arrived.

I got up to look. I didn’t see the woman. I saw a state trooper. His back was to me. He faced a man on the far sidewalk. The man was dressed in black. The man’s garment billowed as he waved his arms. His motions fell somewhere between flailing and dancing. He repeatedly lurched toward the trooper, then took a step back. A second trooper walked up to the first and casually handed him a trooper jacket. The first trooper put it on as if there was no man a few feet away.

We stopped watching. A few minutes later the lights, the cars, the ambulance and the people were gone. I don’t know how it played out. I’ve never seen anything exactly like it. The word that comes to mind is deescalation.

One word fails to explain how the troopers knew that the man in black was not a threat, either to them or, maybe, to the neighbors, like us. Yes, it’s the troopers’ job to know how to protect us, but things don’t always work out that way. So add two other words: gratitude for protecting us and awe at the bravery this takes.

What’s left is questions about what we can do to increase the likelihood of peaceful outcomes like this one in all kinds of cases and especially for people whose skin is not white.

Governor Cuomo has attempted to see if that kind of change is possible. On June 12, 2020 he issued Executive Order No. 203. which requires a long list of techniques and ideas that all municipalities with police agencies that create plans should consider, including “evidence-based policing strategies… use of force policies, procedural justice; any studies addressing systemic racial bias or racial justice in policing; implicit bias awareness training; deescalation training and practices; law enforcement assisted diversion programs; restorative justice practices; community-based outreach and conflict resolution….” the list goes on.

The governor issued his order shortly after George Floyd was strangled to death by a Minneapolis police officer. The governor doesn’t see the order as cosmetic. He has threatened to cut police funding for municipalities that don’t adopt a policing improvement plan by April 1, 2021. And both the county and the handful of communities that still have local police are finishing their work to meet the deadline.

The Village of Chatham has a part-time police force. Its village Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative will present its findings and recommendation at a Public Hearing Tuesday, February 16 at 6:30 PM via WebEx. The meeting is online and the collaborative is requesting public comment.

Here’s the link to the meeting: https://villageofchatham-tiz.my.webex.com/villageofchatham-tiz.my/j.php?MTID=mee973587a8eaabfbf7f3dab47f71a3fa

Meeting number: 132 485 0809 – Password: bnCe8T8P

The Chatham hearing link can also be found on the village website.

The City of Hudson is creating its own plan.

The county Police Reform Collaborative includes plans for the Sheriff’s Office, Greenport, Philmont and Stockport police departments. That panel was scheduled to have a conference online Thursday, February 11 at 6 p.m. Check the county website to see where it is available.

The April 1 deadline for the police reform and reinvention plans is firm. And with so many police agencies trying to improve at once, change could happen. But how long will it take before we can measure the effectiveness of the plans? Where will the money come from to do it? How soon should we expect to learn the extent to which racism exists in local law enforcement? When will we know if it’s waning or growing?

These are just some of the unanswered questions.

Read the plans that affect you. Their success depends on whether we can help reinvent our police agencies. I wish all police interactions could be handled the way those troopers did it. Local police need our involvement to make that possible.

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