SUFFOLK COUNTY

What to expect from Suffolk County's new police reform plan

Body cameras, data accessibility and mental health calls

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Last Tuesday night, two days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a deadline, the Suffolk County Legislature passed their Suffolk County Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force Report in a 16-1 vote. Legis. Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) was the sole opposing vote.

In June of last year, Cuomo issued Executive Order 203, which stated that all police forces “must perform a comprehensive review of current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, and develop a plan to improve such deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, for the purposes of addressing the particular needs of the communities served by such police agency and promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.”

Cuomo issued the executive order during a time of national upheaval and reckoning of racism and inequity in the justice system sparked by former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for just under nine and a half minutes.

In August, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone gathered 37 individuals from all different perspectives, including labor leaders from the Police Benevolent Association, NAACP, faith-based organizations and elected officials, to be part of the Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force.

From October to December of 2020, the task force held weekly public listening sessions, where community members could listen and provide input to be considered. The task force also created a website, https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Police-Reform, where anyone interested could view task force presentations and archived listening sessions.

Despite the plan’s passage, many community advocates want the plan to go even further in addressing inequity. The People’s Plan, a collaborative effort between LI United to Transform Policing and Community Safety, LI Advocates for Police Accountability and United for Justice in Policing LI, was created adjacent to the county’s plan.

“There were other folks out there and coalitions that formed and created their own plan which was a very good thing, quite honestly, because it gave us another bit of reference, another organization to look to,” said Rob Calarco, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. “We had several meetings with those folks during the course of the process [and] listened to the presentation of their plan before we produced ours. So, we were able to look at what were their main concerns.”

In addition to the SCPD, the Sheriff’s Office also created their own plan, the Sheriff’s Office Reform and Reinvention Report, which was passed unanimously by the legislature. The Sheriff’s Office plan focuses on more training for deputy sheriffs, more mental health resources for deputy sheriffs as well as increased community engagement.

Suffolk County sheriff Dr. Errol D. Toulon Jr. is proud of the plan his office put forward and the community input they received in creating the plan.

“The reform plan is not the ‘end-all,’” Toulon said. “We’re always looking to be better.”

Features of the Suffolk Police Reform Plan:

Body cameras
The plan calls for body-worn cameras as “standard equipment” used by the SCPD. However, this is something that the PBA would need to vote on as well as something the Suffolk County Legislature would need to figure out how to pay for.

Human Rights Commission
The task force voted to expand the powers of the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission is made up of 15 civilians appointed by the county executive and the legislature to a fixed term who are empowered to follow any internal affairs complaints from the SCPD from start to finish. The commission would also be able to take in its own complaints from individuals and can follow up with the SCPD internal affairs committee to ensure investigations are proceeding smoothly and efficiently. The task force would then report back to the legislature and county executive.

Mental health
The plan creates a 911 Call Diversion Program where a 911 operator will speak to the caller to “assess the nature of the service needed.” If there is no apparent medical emergency or safety concern, then the call will be transferred to a behavioral health center. If the operator concludes that there is a risk to “the safety of persons” a co-response will be issued from a Mobile Crisis Team and the SCPD.

Data accessibility
The plan allows for much more data to be made public such as traffic stop information and department demographics. Legis. Calarco is a big fan of this aspect of the plan.
“Everything government does is at the behest of the public,” Calarco said. “They are ultimately the boss. So, they’re like shareholders for a company. They’re entitled to see the inner-workings of the company to make sure they’re getting what they’re supposed to be getting.”

SRO review
The plan allows for the School Resource Officer (SRO) program to be gone over and reimagined. Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone announced that he will create a task force to “review and determine the future” of the program. The task force will include school officials, current SROs, and advocates that have expressed concern about the program.

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