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Westchester County Exec Addresses NY Gov's Order On Modernizing Police Agencies

Westchester County Executive at the podium; Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey
Courtesy of the Office of Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Westchester County Executive at the podium; Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey

Westchester County Executive George Latimer was in the northernmost city in his county Friday to hold his daily COVID-19 briefing. While in Peekskill, he also reacted to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reinvent police departments across the state.

Latimer was in Peekskill Friday, joining a range of elected officials to distribute masks from Hanes and the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. While there, he discussed an executive order that fellow Democrat Governor Cuomo had signed earlier in the day directing local police agencies to modernize their departments based on community input. Latimer points to a plan he announced June 1, just after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We committed at that point in time to put together a group of individuals. We have identified almost all of them at this stage of the game. From the Peekskill community, Martin McDonald, who’s a former president of the [Peekskill] NAACP, has agreed to serve and Legislator Colin Smith has agreed to serve. We have legislators and a number of members of the clergy and a very diverse group,” says Latimer. “So we were very appreciative of the governor’s announcement. It meshes completely with what our plans were already, and we hope that together we’ll be able to put together a very solid plan.”

Colin Smith is a Westchester County legislator from Peekskill. Latimer’s plan was to form a working group to review county police academy policies. Cuomo’s executive order, called the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, says each police agency's reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force. And police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding.

“I’m not going to tell anyone what they should do. They should do what they want to do,” Cuomo says. “They should design a police force that works for them.”

Latimer says he believes the Westchester plan will work inside Cuomo’s directive.

“And the governor being able to lay out some specifics that he has as priorities, I’m sure will allow us to accommodate those priorities along with the ones that we’ve identified,” says Latimer.

Latimer details more of his plan.

“We’ve already envisioned that we needed to look at all the policies and procedures in both Westchester County Police and then also in the way we train, through the police academy, all new recruits that may come into the county and bound for any police department, and then also the in-service training that we’re also responsible for,” Latimer says. “And we were going to look at every single component of that. We were going to look around the country to determine best practices, and we were going to try to find ways to deal with issues that had been on the table. How do you de-escalate a situation? How do you get mental health professionals to be part of that initial response team?”

Cuomo on Friday also signed a number of police reforms, including the repeal of a law, known as 50-a, that shields police disciplinary records from the public. The Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association had asked Cuomo not to repeal the measure. Latimer says, on the county level, he’s looking more at what procedures can be put in place rather than what legislation can be passed.

“But sometimes it’s a question of knowledge as well. Somebody came up to me and said, well, the county police should all have body cams; but they do. The patrol officers for the county police, not officers, members, all have body cams already. They didn’t know that. And they also didn’t know that we already have implicit bias training as part of our agenda. Now, can it be improved? Yes, it can. Can we do things that take us to another level that would be more appropriate, more professional? Yes, we can,” says Latimer. “I think if we approach this properly, we’ll ultimately, you can’t say today because you don’t know what the proposals are on the table, but I think the men and women of the police force here in Westchester County are going to respond to a reasonable approach to this. And, at the end of the day, what’s most important? That we improve the nature of community policing between the police and between those in the minority community, particularly in the African-American community.”

Meantime, Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey offered a COVID-19 reminder as the Mid-Hudson Region is in Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan.

“You still have to pay attention to social distancing and, of course, there’s different protocols and policies that’s going to be in place,” Rainey says.  “There is no normal now. This is going to be a completely new normal for the City of Peekskill, as it is elsewhere.”

Latimer also announced that Croton Gorge Park would be closed on weekends through the July 4th holiday weekend because of overcrowding. He says the park will be open weekdays.

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