Easing tensions in Westchester

Easing tensions between police department and local community
June 28, 2008 6:32:09 PM PDT
An effort this weekend in Westchester County made to ease simmering tensions between the police department and the local community. The uneasy feelings fostered by several recent police-involved incidents.

Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager has more on the meeting that put some lawmakers on the hot seat.

It's not all that often the Reverend Al Sharpton spends several hours with top members of law enforcement and even shakes some hands.

It came after some healthy dialogue and certainly some strong reaction from many African-Americans in Westchester -- who say they're deeply concerned about police-community relations.

The dramatic Irma Marquez case was front and center at the forum.

Irma Marquez was unarmed. Yet, her body slammed by Yonkers police officer Wayne Simoes back in March of 2007.

This shocking video captures the cop's violent takedown as he was trying to keep the woman from interfering with an emergency medical call.

On Friday the FBI arrested officer Simoes after local authorities in Westchester had cleared him.

Saturday, Sharpton and others were grilling Westchester's District Attorney about why.

Amidst the cheers and jeers, and Westchester's DA now admits her office mishandled the case.

"There were grave errors and mistakes of judgment in that case," Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore said.

"I'm not as relieved as I would've been, had they said it before the arrest. The problem is, when the FBI made an arrest yesterday, it showed that there is an apparatus that is not holding police that are accountable." Reverend Al Sharpton from National Action Network said.

"Obviously I did not see that tape before the case went to trial, and obviously, members of my staff have made some terrible mistakes and errors in judgment." Janet DiFiore said.

Errors, she promises to correct but this was only one issue in many here at the meeting.

Another question at this forum was about minority recruitment in Westchester's police departments.

In Mount Vernon, African-Americans make up 24 percent of the police department but in Yonkers, they make up only four percent.

And on this day, not one, rank-and-file, white police officer attended the forum. Other leaders who did were realizing there's room for improvement.

"It's very different from New York City. We have like 40 police departments," Westchester County Exec. Andrew Spano said. "We have different training procedures here."

Advocates for better relations hoping this meeting, however shaky, will increase the dialogue in the future.