Residents query absence of body cams, race and accountability during Manor police forum

Scout+visits+to+police+headquarters+were+cited+in+Pelham+Manor%27s+report+on+dealing+with+racism+in+policing.

Scout visits to police headquarters were cited in Pelham Manor’s report on dealing with racism in policing.

The Pelham Manor Board of Trustees held a public forum Thursday to answer questions on the second draft of the village’s police reform report, including the decision to not adopt body cameras, the use of the word “race” in the report and the accountability process in the police department.

The review performed by the police department, the village board and Pelham Manor’s stakeholder working group, a committee comprised of residents of the village, was conducted in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order last June, which stated “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 adopt an action plan to address racism in policing by April of this year.

The village board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday to vote on its report.

During the forum, residents asked about the decision to not adopt body cameras for police officers and, according to the revised report, “revisit the possibility of purchasing body cameras for the PMPD in the future.” The first version of the report did not mention the devices at all, an omission some residents questioned at a previous forum. (The Village of Pelham’s reform report has recommended body cameras. Officers of the Westchester county police already wear them.)

Ramsey McGrory, the Democratic candidate for mayor who lost in the village election, asked whether cost was the only factor considered when discussing the body cameras.

Cost was not the only consideration,” said Trustee Breda Bennett, who is police commissioner. “The (stakeholder) working group had a long discussion about this, and when we looked at all the policing statistics, we felt that it is something that needs to be closely monitored but at this point it is not an absolute necessity.”

Bennett said the village was open to the idea of working with Westchester County on the use of body cameras.

The report does not call for major structural changes in Pelham Manor police operations, instead primarily highlighting efforts already in place inside and outside the department, some of which have little to do with race.

As result of the reform process, police started foot patrols at Four Corners in November, the report said. Officials are also considering community events such as “Picnic with the Police” to promote communication. The report said the village intends to lobby state officials to change civil service laws to make it easier to hire more diverse candidates.

Residents Nadine Leesang and Chris D’Angelo both expressed concern over the absence of the word “race” in the vision and mission statements at the beginning of the document.

“Was there a conscious decision not to mention race or why race wasn’t mentioned with respect to the vision and the mission statement in particular?” asked D’Angelo. “Why was there no reference to race in the vision and mission statement given the purpose of the order?” 

Police Chief Jeffrey Carpenter said he originally drafted the vision and mission statements while in Quantico, Virginia, receiving training with the FBI. “We actually got input from chiefs from all over the world,” he said. “All genders and all races.”

When it came to the police reform report, Carpenter continued, the board “didn’t feel that there was a need to point out any race or gender.”

It should be noted that the vision statement of the PMPD is what the department strives to do as opposed to the mission statement which outlines the purpose of the department itself.

Resident Alison Frost asked Carpenter what the department’s procedure is for addressing complaints and handling accountability of officers.

“If a complaint comes in, it’s handled immediately by the lieutenant and based on the nature of the complaint, it is looked into by the lieutenant or the detective sergeant,” Carpenter said. He also explained his initiative to add an external complaint form for residents to fill out should they feel intimidated in the police station when filling out the form. 

“People might feel uncomfortable talking about the complaint in-person in a police station,” he said. “So I’m doing an in-person form as well as a complaint form that can be filled out where somebody feels safe.”

Resident Melissa Labonte said, “As you may know, Westchester County has adopted a recommendation in its (report) to create a separate department for police accountability. In their document, it says we could utilize this office… Will the village opt into this office once it’s established?” 

Bennett said the village was open to the idea of working with the county and the new accountability office.

“As we have stated, this will not finish once the report is submitted,” she said. “We participate in a lot of shared services with other municipalities, and we will look into the possibility of doing that.”