Pleasantville Ponders Small Group Meetings to Discuss Police Reform

Pleasantville officials are planning to schedule informal meetings to discuss police reform issues since the live-streamed format may limit some residents who are reticent about airing concerns and grievance to the wider public.

At the Pleasantville Village Board’s Dec. 28 work session, the board discussed the public’s hesitancy and decided to reach out to certain individuals and groups who have expressed a deeper interest and desire to be involved in the police reform process.

“We could put together three or four working groups and perhaps a pair of trustees could sit in on one or two,” said Trustee David Vinjamuri at last month’s work session. “It would be a manageable number, like 10 to 12 people. It could also be cross-functional and include students, teachers, youth officers and a school board member.”

Trustee Nicole Asquith supported the idea of meeting with particular groups who could more comfortably voice their opinions in a more informal environment.

“This would allow them to dig into the material a little bit more and develop ideas or suggestions in a substantial way,” she said.

Asquith also suggested the meetings not be recorded. Vinjamuri said he would mention that board members are meeting with certain groups in his monthly update, “What’s Happening in Pleasantville,” that he has started to post on the village’s Facebook page.

At the start of the webinars in the fall, the village established a dedicated e-mail address for people to submit their concerns. The pandemic has forced the meetings to be aired via Zoom, and Scherer pointed out that before COVID-19, community comments would be handled differently.

“Absent COVID, if folks had an issue, they didn’t feel comfortable discussing in a public arena and one that was being recorded, we would meet to discuss in living rooms or over coffee,” Scherer said. “That way we were able to dig into it, respect each person as we converse face to face. The webinar format is a much more stilted means of getting at that.”

Scherer said he has reached out to various organizations, including faith-based groups, the Interfaith Council, the Cottage School, Pace University and the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce. He echoed Asquith and Vinjamuri sentiments.

“We need to reach out to folks who are interested in a deeper engagement,” Scherer said. “I think the notion of faith-based groups, diversity and inclusion groups and minority communities are three groups we should reach out to right now.”

The fourth public Pleasantville police reform meeting will be live-streamed this Thursday, Jan. 14 and will focus on police training and the complaint review process. The next forum is on Jan. 28 and will examine community policing, general outreach/communications and outreach to specific communities.

Public participation was robust for the first two forums but diminished considerably at the most recent forum. The format of the webinars has generally included detailed reports by the Pleasantville Police Department, Village Board comments and questions and comments from the public.  

According to Scherer, Asquith and Vinjamuri, if items discussed in the smaller groups were pertinent, they would be mentioned in the report to the state.

Scherer proposed the board and Pleasantville Police Chief Erik Grutzner generate a draft of recommendations based on community feedback and data gathered from the forums.

“We would reflect that (draft) back to the community as actionable recommendations that we have come up with, items that seem actionable now and we can send to the state as our immediate plan,” Scherer said. “We would also present items that we’ve heard from the community that we are looking to do a deeper dive for significant change going forward.”

He compared meeting with certain groups as a future feedback mechanism to “laying down railroad tracks we can use going forward.”

“David and I are interested in more transparency on things like the complaint process and how that works,” said Asquith. “We are interested in knowing where people are coming from and if there are people who want to be heard but who are uncomfortable about coming forward, we want to make this process as inclusive as possible.”

The Jan. 14 and Jan. 28 forums will be held at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom with links posted on the village website. For more information on the process and to see videos of prior meetings, visit https://www.pleasantville-ny.gov/police-reform-reinvention-collaborative. Written comments can be submitted to policereform@pleasantville-ny.gov.

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