Report on reforming Westchester County police calls for office of accountability

Westchester’s 38-member task force for police reform released a report calling for the creation of a new office of police accountability and other steps to improve the Westchester County Department of Public Safety.

The accountability office will allow anyone to report illegal and inappropriate behavior by officers. Another program, the Active Bipartisanship for Law Enforcement (ABLE), was recommended and would focus on officers acting if they witness misconduct.

The task force to address structural racism in county policing had six working groups: community engagement, qualification and recruitment, training and equipment, policies and procedures,  accountability, and transparency.

The review of the county police department was conducted in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in June, which said “following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota, protests have taken place daily throughout the nation and in communities across New York State in response to police-involved deaths and racially-biased law enforcement to demand change, action and accountability.” Cuomo’s order requires each municipality to engage in a public process that results in adoption of an action plan by April.

The panel was co-chaired by Westchester residents Mayo Bartlett and Leroy Frazier. Both spoke at a press conference on Tuesday, where they commended County Executive George Latimer and other officials for beginning the process toward reform before the state mandated it.

The goal set by the two chairs was to go beyond the mandate and make a change in regards to Westchester policing.

“Twenty or thirty years from now, when young people are asked what happened in Westchester County with respect to policing,” Bartlett said, “they will look and see that not only did we look at reforms that were required, but we truly embraced the concept of reimagining what police should be.”

They will look and see that not only did we look at reforms that were required, but we truly embraced the concept of reimagining what police should be.”

— Mayo Bartlett, county task force co-chair

Bartlett and Frazier said Westchester police had undergone reform before the committee was organized. Officers already wear body cameras, are given anti-bias training and have higher training standards than New York State mandates.

All those who spoke in Tuesday’s press conference expressed that while they feel the report makes enormous progress, they are not near the end. County Legislature Chairman Ben Boykin said, “The challenge of equity, diversity and modernization are not new. An adoption of this report will not end our need to continually examine how we’re doing and make adjustments when and where necessary.”

The task force included several other recommendations in its report that were not discussed in the press conference. These recommendations include joint de-escalation training with the county department of corrections, policies to educate the public on police values, a countywide database for mental-health behavioral cases and enhancement of police training. Training will be extended to second and third line supervisors on an annual basis.

The Westchester Police Academy will increase hours of availability and include a one-week session dedicated towards bias-related crimes and cultural diversity.

Latimer discussed the next steps for the report. In order for the findings to be utilized, Latimer said, they must face scrutiny from the county executive team. Here, Latimer will take the steps necessary to get new laws and programs started. Next, the plan will go to the Westchester Board of Legislators for review. If approved, Latimer can then sign the certification form and submit it to the state government for final review.

“It became clearer than ever—following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others—that real reform must occur,” Latimer said. “It also must occur with all stakeholders at the table. I believe this task force has done admirable work toward that goal and I thank them all for their service.”