Westchester County unveils police reform task force recommendations

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, New York -- Westchester County on Tuesday released the report and recommendations of a Police Reform and Reimagining Task Force commissioned last June to implement positive changes after a historic year of shining light on longstanding injustices in the United States.

The task force, formed by County Executive George Latimer, was made up of law enforcement, attorneys, and key community stakeholders, and after seven months of intense collaboration, the report now goes to the Board of Legislators for approval.

There were six working groups, focusing on Community Engagement, Qualification and Recruitment, Training and Equipment, Policies and Procedures, and Accountability and Transparency.

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Following the extensive work, which included public hearings, work sessions and discussion, the task force report is organized in three main sections: 1) Background and structure of this task force; 2) Reports detailing the work, process, recommendations and overall findings; and 3) a description of the 51 recommendations organized based on the level of government to which they must be referred for action -- opportunities for administrative action by the county executive, recommendations for the county's Board of Legislators, and recommendations for action by New York State.

Among the recommendations:
--Reviewing Westchester County Department of Public Safety (WCDPS)'s use of social media,
--Making WCDPS's homepage available in multiple languages,
--Design and add a series of questions regarding an officer's interaction with the community they serve when considering promotions and/or annual evaluations.
--Conduct joint de-escalation (also known as verbal judo) training with the Department of Correction.
--WCDPS should explore national accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies' (CALEA) Advanced Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
--Implement Policies to Educate the Public on Police Values, Principles, and Operations.
--Make non-confidential documents and other data, which will allow the public to assess the fairness of civilian police interactions, readily available to the public.
--Enhance Officer Training - extension of leadership training to second and third line supervisors on an annual basis.
--Increase training hours for the County Police Academy's Basic Training Course for police officers to include one week devoted to Procedural Justice, Cultural Diversity, and Bias Related Crimes and Incidents,
--Implement Project ABLE (Active 'Bystandership' for Law Enforcement),
--Identify liaison officers at each municipal police department who are trained to respond to hate incidents,
--Enhance the County's already successful Police and Community Together (PACT) community engagement program and make it available as a model for other communities,
--Establish an Open Disciplinary Process,
--Pass County laws to create the Office for Police Accountability (OPA) to investigate allegations of misconduct by WCDPS officers,
--Expand the use of specialized teams to respond to mental health calls County-wide and explore additional co-response initiatives,
--Expanding age range for police officers,
--Create and implement a County-wide electronic database for Mental Health Behavioral cases and special needs populations.
--Establish a shared Body Work Camera (BWC) database through shared services.
--Update Section 273.01(3) of the County Public Safety Law in reference to hate crimes.
--DCJS Certification/Licensure Overhaul
--Provide for legislation requiring municipal indemnification by officers guilty of reckless and willful misconduct.

New actions taken by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services such as:
--Reconsider the use of the term 'Tactical Perception'
--Accreditation should be made mandatory for every law enforcement agency Statewide
--Training requirements should uniformly require annual leadership training for second- and third-line supervisors
--Mandate annual in-service training for all officers regarding Bias Crimes/Incidents, Procedural Justice, Professional Communication and Tactical Perception (Cultural Competency and Implicit Bias).
--Change Civil Service Law to extend the probationary period for new recruits to two years.
--Reform Civil Service Law and the process for hiring police officers.

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The task force, chaired by prominent Westchester residents Mayo Bartlett, Esq. and Leroy Frazer, Esq, was comprised of county and local law enforcement professionals, clergy representatives, criminal justice and police reform advocates, human rights professionals, and public servants to develop a blueprint for new policing strategies and to highlight policies currently in place by the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.

The report will now go to the Board of Legislators for their review and legislative action.

In addition, following guidelines from the Governor's Executive Order 203, this plan will be posted for public comment and a final version will incorporate public comments received. Once the plan is adopted by the BOL, Latimer will complete the Certification Form and submit the certification and a copy of the plan to the Director of the New York State Division of the Budget on or before April 1, 2021.

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