By Edie Johnson
During this week , coincidentally at the very same time a jury considers a verdict on the circumstances of the death of George Floyd, police departments in New York and elsewhere have been tasked to submit certified reports of reform and reinvention plans, according to a 135-page manual. The manual includes a lengthy list of procedural reviews and participation in training to make sure their interactions with the public are always fair, as safe as reasonable, and supportive when the there is opportunity to do so. Our local police departments, including New Windsor, Blooming Grove and Washingtonville, (seen in the included pictures) as well as all other communities in the county, have completed their policy reviews and training, which were due to be submitted to New York State authorities by April 1. This task, essentially to “Reimagine and Reinvent Policing” has a lot of elements that have already been central to most of our local departments since many groups of officers have already attended extensive training in community relations both locally, some having very specialized training in states as far away as Texas. Several departments, including the City of Newburgh showed a high degree of compassionate awareness when they participated in Black Lives Matter marches over the Summer. They’ve held fishing trips and barbecues and even began an academy for youngsters interested in police service in the future. But there have also been instances of conflict in the City when police and residents saw an altercation differently, especially during several violent altercations.
This time all police departments in the state have been asked to take those skills a step farther in areas where they have been successful, and required to develop and enforce even better skills in dealing with inherent bias, threat assessment and deescalation, new officer training, regular sessions of retraining, and increased cooperative action and intervention with other agencies such as mental health experts. The priority, as stated in the Governor’s order, was to develop the process as a collaborative effort with community stakeholders. The document detailing additional education of existing and new officers is imposing. This week both the Town of New Windsor and the Town of Blooming Grove completed their process for Certification by holding public hearings. They had formed committees of both officers and residents, with a requirement for wide community representation , and had public participation from the rest of the community via a survey. Blooming Grove’s Sergeant Kevin Wakeham gave a Zoom presentation on Tuesday so the public could offer any last minute comments, of which there were few after his 40-minute review of the extensive work they had done over the past year. A series of idea-sharing meetings was held with community volunteers in each municipality. But the proof of efforts over the past two years can be seen in the photos of them bringing K9 Officer Jax to Girl Scouts, guarding schools, collecting coats and food for those in need, visiting the sick during COVID, and offering an exciting drive-by for young or old ones with a birthday, putting on a mock scenario of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, holding barbecues and fishing trips, sledding, or playing basketball with youngsters for some impromptu fun. In some places this has always existed, but the goal is to make it more of a standard so that trust building begins as a part of police-community contacts from childhood on.
In most municipalities the full text of “Reimagine Policing” reports for participating Orange County Towns, Villages and Cities are on their websites.