Village trustees hosted a virtual public hearing March 1 on the Rockville Centre Police Department’s proposed reform plans, created in accordance with the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order.
The governor’s guidance, issued last summer, offered topics for consideration by local police departments, elected officials and residents in order to develop plans for police reform, part of an overall mission to improve relationships between communities and law enforcement. Every municipality in the state is to adopt a reform plan by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.
“This plan will enable the Rockville Centre Police Department to continue its outstanding service to the community while working towards further reducing racial disparities in policing,” Commissioner James Vafeades said at the hearing.
The plan was created by members of the department, along with community members including local elected officials, nonprofit and faith-based group leaders, a member of the Nassau County district attorney’s office, a local public defender, residents who have had interactions with the police, local housing advocates, residents who have been incarcerated and local education officials.
“The ultimate goal of this process was to foster trust, fairness and legitimacy between police and the community we serve,” Vafeades said. “There was a transparent exchange of ideas that created the foundation for this plan.”
The Police Department, he added, plans to create or modify some 30 sections of the existing police manual, more than double the number the state recommended. Transparency was one of the plan’s focal points.
“The committee believes that with transparency comes trust,” the commissioner said, referring to the group of police officers and community stakeholders who collaborated on the plan.
Going forward, the department will post police statistics on its website twice a year, including data on arrests, traffic and field stops, complaints and the use of force.
The plan also addresses the use of non-lethal weaponry, the elimination of chokeholds and the implementation of de-escalation training “in an effort to reduce high-stress interactions that could potentially result in the use of force,” the commissioner said.
Additionally, officers will be required to complete at least 10 hours of annual training on implicit and systemic racial bias awareness. The department website will accept anonymous complaints, including internal complaints against fellow officers.
“This plan reflects the Police Department’s commitment to serving all the people of our community both equally and fairly,” Vafeades said. “. . . The village is committed to making impactful changes while working towards reducing racial disparities.”
The 328-page reform plan also addresses mental health response calls, among other topics, and is available for viewing by the public on the village and department websites.
“We really appreciate all the time and effort you and your staff put in to make this beautiful survey of the Rockville Centre Police Department and how we’re going to do it going forward,” Mayor Francis Murray said on behalf of the village board after thanking Vafeades.
Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley also thanked the commissioner, as well as the other department and community members who worked on the plan, adding that she had spoken to several of them at different times, and they had praised Vafeades’s approach. “They said he was very thorough, and he incorporated a lot of what they had to say into this plan,” Baxley said, “which is wonderful.”
Trustee Emilio Grillo echoed those sentiments, adding that the “spirit of transparency and collaboration” was noteworthy. “Even in spending some time reviewing this 328-page document and all of the exhibits that are attached and everything,” he said, “the emphasis that’s placed on de-escalation, I think, is something that’s really significant, and something that I don’t need to tell you, but will go a long way in working with our community going forward.”
Trustees voted unanimously to keep the matter open until a special village meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We’re all confident that the modifications made to the policy will have a positive effect on racial disparities and implied biases in policing,” Vafeades said. “This reform plan does not end when it is submitted on April 1. We consider this plan to be the beginning of an ongoing, progressive process that continues to ensure that policing in Rockville Centre will be done in an equitable, fair and unbiased manner.”