Westchester County Executive George Latimer named a 28-member task force Monday to review the training provided at the county’s police academy as well as various policies and practices to ensure equitable law enforcement.
Much of the diverse task force’s mission will be similar to a working group that Latimer announced three weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd killing.
However, on June 12, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which mandates that all levels of government that oversee a police department must review the agency’s policies and procedures with local stakeholders and law enforcement personnel to make sure the department properly serves the community it works for.
A report must be submitted to the state by Apr. 1, 2021. Failure to do so would jeopardize a county’s or a municipality’s state funding.
Latimer said some members of the working group had already been identified before the collaborative was announced, including the group’s co-chairs, attorneys and former prosecutors Leroy Frazer and Mayo Bartlett who are both African American. Now the county will take “a more profound step” to address policing issues, he said.
“We know that it is not enough to rally, it is not enough to express heartfelt anger and frustration, and as I’ve said at the rallies where I’ve been asked to share a few words, it really isn’t realistic for a white man to be the person to try and channel what is being felt in the African American community, and for that matter, the community of color,” Latimer said.
Meeting dates and community feedback sessions will be scheduled. The task force must submit a report to the Board of Legislators by the end of the year, Latimer said. County lawmakers will have the first quarter of next year to debate the report and consider any revisions before submitting to the state.
The co-chairs agreed that policing in Westchester is superior than many areas of the state and nation, but that they hope to identify shortcomings and recommend county legislation.
Bartlett said the work can make the county’s police force a model for law enforcement in New York and to contribute to the improvement of police structure across the state.
“I’m extremely excited about it,” Bartlett said. “I think about my children and their children and hopefully their children and what this will mean and the fact that we will actually have legislation that’s structurally there.”
Frazer said he is impressed with the quality of individuals on the task force and that everyone is fair-minded to achieve meaningful improvements.
“I’ve seen over the years that when you bring together well-intentioned people that you can have that debate and have that discussion and you can then move forward because with all the names that I’ve heard and everything that I’ve read about them, they have similar goals – similar goals and important goals that we are looking for here,” Frazer said.
The task force includes law enforcement professionals, such as Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason, Deputy Commissioner Terrance Raynor, former Greenburgh police chief and top criminal investigator for the Westchester County District Attorney’s office Christopher McNerney; Bedford Police Chief Melvin Padilla and retired New Castle Police Officer Chad Golanec; county legislators Colin Smith, Lyndon Williams and Terry Clements; members of the African American clergy; Tejash Sanchala and Rev. Doris Dalton of the county’s Human Rights Commission; Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden of the county’s Youth Bureau; Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., an activist who lost his father in an officer-involved shooting; Martin McDonald; the former head of the Peekskill NAACP; Judge Kathy Davidson, the chief administrative judge for the 9th Judicial District and Scarsdale Village Justice Jack Alemany; Shondra Floyd McClary, an educator and Mount Kisco resident; and several others.
Board Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) said in addition to examining training, policies and procedures, he hopes the task force will provide guidance about how it should be determined who becomes a police officer.
“We need to start with the recruitment effort, so that we recruit people who have it in their DNA and in their system to know how to be police, to be sensitive to the community needs, to be important servants to the public,” Boykin said.
Latimer said that the county takes its responsibility seriously to ensure it has top-notch police and the best practices to serve all of Westchester.
“We’re not doing this because of state funding; we’re doing this because it’s right,” he said.