On Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Village of Freeport Police Department hosted an open house for community members to discuss their police reform draft.
In accordance with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203, the department reached out to residents and community stakeholders to create a new police contract. The order states that, “the government has a responsibility to ensure that all of its citizens are treated equally, fairly, and justly before the law,” and that “the recent outpouring of protests and demonstrations which have been manifested in every area of the state have illustrated the depth and breadth of the concern and, whereas, black lives matter.” The deadline for the completion of the governor’s order is April 1, 2021, and Freeport’s police reform draft was made public in January.
The draft seeks to, “eliminate racial inequalities in policing, and modify and modernize police strategies, policies, procedures and practices.”
The department hopes that through community engagement, greater police transparency and a larger focus on de-escalation tactics and anti-racism in police training, trust between residents and officers can be strengthened. Last summer was a tumultuous, tension-filled season of protests within Freeport and throughout Long Island. In Freeport alone, there were fifteen to twenty protests over the summer, the largest attracting 500 participants. The Village of Freeport Police Department is 101 members strong.
One of the major changes proposed in the report is to dedicate sixteen hours to implicit bias education for recruits at the Nassau County Police Department. Eight of those hours will be spent on reducing, “stereotypical ideology and subconscious biases.” The other eight are designated for learning about cultural diversity. Role playing scenarios will be set up to simulate potential community interactions.
“Members of the community are invited to lecture recruits about their culture and address common misconceptions or prejudices they experience in their everyday lives,” the report states.
Other changes in the document include publishing the department’s use of force policies on the Freeport Village website, routinely updating officers on chokehold regulations and a duty to intercede, and expanding the use of body cameras. The department will update the traffic ticket program (TRACS) to include the race of the motorist for statistical analysis. A community affairs division will be formed to deal with non-criminal incidents and interact with the youth of the community. The department also wants to assure the public that facial recognition cameras are not used by the police and that military vehicles for storm response will not be utilized for enforcement. Statistics on use of force, complaints and summonses will be made public.
Only one community member attended the open house last Wednesday. A second open house took place on Saturday, Feb. 6.
“I attended the meeting because I had a couple of questions regarding the outreach programs, such as the Community Affairs Division (CAD) and Police Activity League (PAL),” said Melisa Wright, a Freeport resident who works as an assistant manager at a residential group home. Wright also runs and hosts a podcast called “Anti-Racism with Melisa Wright” at her school, SUNY College at Old Westbury. “I wanted more information on how FPD was going about these programs, especially during the pandemic.”
Issues such as undercover police in hotspot areas, officer accountability, recruit training and police-community interaction were discussed at the open house. The events of the summer, specifically how the police can effectively work with organizers during protests, were also talked about. The officers present, including Chief of Police Michael J. Smith, asked Wright how they could better communicate with the public. The officers expressed disappointment that more community members were not present, attributing it to either lack of interest or bad promotion.
“Overall, I am very happy with the answers I received,” said Wright. “I felt like they were honest about the things that they do and do not have available for those programs [due to budgeting and limited staff]. I also feel like they were open to ideas from the community, as they kept asking for what I wanted to see from the FPD. I believe outreach programs are crucial for the community and the young, not just in Freeport, but in all communities.”
The Freeport Police Department consulted with various civic associations, members of the local clergy, residents and members of the Nassau DA’s Freeport advisory committee while drafting the police reform contract. The department intends to continue its dialogue with the public before the draft becomes law in April.