The Westchester County police reform task force issued its report to the Board of Legislators Tuesday that makes 51 wide-ranging recommendations intended to improve policing by county officers and their relationship to the public.
Key recommendations from the Police Reform and Reimagining Task Force include joint de-escalation training with the Department of Corrections, increasing training for procedural justice, cultural diversity and bias-related crimes and incidents and expand the use of specialized personnel when responding to calls involving a mentally ill person.
Additionally, the 38-member task force, comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders, called for county legislators to create an Office of Police Accountability to investigate allegations of officer misconduct and an open disciplinary process and introduce a shared body work camera database with local departments to lower the cost of data storage to encourage wider use of officer body cameras and dashcams.
Other recommendations include a request to implement Project ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) to train officers how to handle a situation if they see another officer doing something wrong and that all police departments in the county receive accreditation by the state, said task force Co-chairman Mayo Bartlett. It also wants to push the state for legislation to make accreditation mandatory.
Only about half of the county’s law enforcement agencies are accredited and that number drops to about 25 percent statewide, he said.
Bartlett said the nearly eight months it took for the group to complete its report highlighted that the county Department of Public Safety had many strong qualities, but it wanted to ensure that best practices are followed and address any improvements that should be made.
“We have endeavored to make sure that we are going to leave the Westchester County police department on a better footing than it is right now, and so 20 or 30 years from now when young people ask what happened in Westchester County with respect to policing, they will look and see that not only did we look at reforms that were required but we truly enhanced the concept of reimagining what police should be,” Bartlett said.
Although there has been cultural competency and implicit bias training previously and the department uses body cameras and dashcams, the task force wanted to ensure trust with the community, said Co-chairman Leroy Frazer.
“There’s an underlying theme of training, transparency and accountability and we sought to make the proper suggestions, that we can reach our goals and we can make sure that the police throughout Westchester are able to step up and have the relationship with the community, that there is a relationship of trust and there’s a relationship of understanding,” Frazer said.
County Executive George Latimer pointed to how the county had already created a task force to look at its policing before Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his executive order last June mandating all communities with departments complete and submit a report to the state.
“We want to do better and we want to take the basis of what’s good of what we do, and the things that may not be good and improve and show a path to the future, and to do that, to have a multiplicity of experiences around the table was important to us,” Latimer said.
Other recommendations of note are to have the Department of Public Safety’s website in multiple languages; develop a clearer description of the role that county officers play in Mount Kisco and Cortlandt, communities that receive police service from the county; and for the department to establish a stronger media presence, said task force member Blanca Lopez.
Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason said the department welcomes recommendations that could result in positive changes.
“I believe our department, as an accredited agency, can serve as an example for other departments in our training, our professionalism and our policies and our procedures,” Gleason said.
The report will now be reviewed by the Board of Legislators, which will hold public hearings on the document. Lawmakers will make any needed revisions before the county sends the completed report to the state by Apr. 1, said Board Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains).
“In the end we will adopt a plan that will make Westchester a better place and that’s really our most important job as legislators, to leave our county a better place when we leave than when we first took office,” Boykin said.
The public may read the report at https://www.westchestergov.com/images/stories/pdfs/policereformreport.pdf.