The Mount Pleasant Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee announced a draft list of more than a dozen recommendations for consideration that is designed to improve how the town’s police department operates and interacts with the public.
The wide-ranging recommendations revealed at the committee’s Mar. 3 meeting are a combination of reaffirming some existing policies while recognizing the importance of certain types of training, transparency and communication and greater diversity on the force.
Last Wednesday, Chief Paul Oliva reviewed the 14 recommendations with the committee that will be forwarded to the Town Board for its approval later this month. The deadline for an approved plan to be submitted to the state is Apr. 1 following last June’s executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for all communities with police departments to review policies and procedures.
“I think a lot of benefit’s going to come of this,” said Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi.
Among the more notable suggestions is Mount Pleasant will partner with the Bedford Police Department to expand de-escalation training for its officers and collaborate with other law enforcement agencies in the county to train selective officers on crowd control techniques so the department is better equipped to handle large protests, Oliva said.
De-escalation training will also focus on having other officers come forward to relieve their colleagues before a situation can spiral out of control.
“Police officers are human, you can get excited and overreact, so I’m teaching officers if you witness another officer getting excited over something, tap him out and then you take over,” Oliva said. “We kind of have it now but we’ll formalize it a little bit more.”
To help increase diversity on the force, Oliva said the department will reach out to communities of color in hopes of recruiting a wider population of candidates. In December at the start of the committee’s meetings, Oliva said there were no Black officers on the 46-member department and only a few of mixed races.
The county announced last week that for the first time in five years it will be offering a police civil service exam in May, with increasing diversity of police departments as one of its priorities.
“We want to get to the younger generation and show them we want their help,” the chief said. “I still believe that law enforcement is a noble profession. It’s dynamic, constantly changing, but we need good people and we could welcome the diversity.”
The department also plans to explore the use of body cameras for officers, which would be a benefit to the officers, most of whom are in favor of acquiring them, Oliva said. The cameras also promote transparency with the public. However, bodycams are expensive, he warned.
A review of the online complaint process will be conducted to make it easier for the public to file complaints.
Other initiatives proposed by the committee include civilianizing some of the dispatching to free up officers for police work; implementation of the Hope Not Handcuffs program, which has been used successfully in several other area departments, which allows people with drug problems to avoid the criminal justice system if they voluntarily turn themselves in for treatment; focusing on officers’ physical and mental health by carving out town space to allow them to exercise; continuing to have school resource officers but eliminating the D.A.R.E. Program, which has been deemed to be less effective in recent years; and holding semiannual meetings with the public to increase interaction between the residents and officers.
Perhaps the most extensive area of discussion last week was when to deploy social services personnel on a call that involves a person with mental illness.
Oliva said that the committee determined that social services are not equipped to handle “acute” situations. There are times when an officer needs to determine whether a person has a weapon or if they are a danger to themselves, he said. If someone is determined to be a danger to themselves, then there could be a greater likelihood they are a danger to someone else.
“We’re not always sure what we have, and to place a worker, a social services worker in that, when it’s unknown or not really safe potentially, I guess the best word is an acute situation in the field, may not be the safest,” Oliva said.
Committee member Kelsey Padgett asked the chief how an acute situation would be defined or determined. The chief responded that access to weapons is one example of an acute situation.
Oliva noted that he supports use of the county’s mobile crisis unit, which is equipped to handle those types of emergencies.