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Light Must Be Shed on Police Reform Plans

by Frank Anechiarico

Last June, in the midst of righteous protests over the murder of George Floyd and generations of unquestioned racism in American law enforcement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring every jurisdiction in the state that operates a police agency to submit a carefully considered plan for reform.  The rhetoric in Executive Order 203 was urgent.  The plans were required to consider the experience of people of color with the police and to reinvent the role of the police to accommodate the needs of a diverse community.  This was to be done by reviewing all policies thoroughly, with particular attention to the use of force, training protocols, and officer discipline.  After this process, for which a 140-page guide was provided, each plan was to be made available to the public and then passed by the appropriate legislative body and sent to the State Budget Division.

This process was followed locally with varying degrees of interest in racial justice and real reform.  Of those currently available to the College-Community Partnership for Racial Justice, the Utica City plan is the most thorough and innovative.  The Utica plan includes provisions for mental health professionals to co-respond with patrol officers to mental health emergencies, a reform that the Partnership’s survey found was supported by large majorities locally.  Utica also plans to impanel a citizen review board that will work with a police oversight auditor to identify areas for improvement and change in the operations of the UPD, as well as process citizen criticisms and complaints.  The plan submitted by  Oneida County, which is responsible for the Sheriff’s Department, includes no major or innovative reforms.

Like other organizations in the Mohawk Valley, the College-Community Partnership for Racial Justice argues that the struggle for equity in policing, at this point, requires us to do two things: first, those jurisdictions that have not stepped up to the challenge and submitted serious reform plans must be pressed to do so now and, second, the process of implementing even the most promising reforms must be monitored and evaluated.

Plans are fine, but results are what counts. But, in order to press for more complete reform and evaluate what’s been proposed, light must be shed on all of the plans submitted to the Budget Division.  They have not yet been released to the public and efforts made by the Partnership and the Levitt Center at Hamilton College to determine when and even whether we can see them have run into brick walls. A direct request to Budget Director Robert Mujica received a one-line, unsigned reply with a link to the form for a Freedom of Information Law request.

The transparency and accountability that was demanded by the Governor in June, disappeared from his agenda, once the plans reached Albany.  If the results of local efforts are underwhelming, the Governor may well be embarrassed, after his ringing declaration of racial justice in the executive order.  But, whether the plans are good, bad, or indifferent, there is a great deal to be learned from them.  How do local governments see the problem of racism in policing?  What do they think community involvement and accountability mean in law enforcement?  Basically, where do local governments in New York State see problems of racial inclusion and what do they plan to do about them?

The Partnership is prepared to review all 496 plans to find answers to these questions.  Without answers, the rhetoric of last summer comes to nothing.  We’re ready for the next, even more important phase of law enforcement reform in New York State.  Please join us.  The Partnership’s work is available at: community4justice.org

We urge everyone to contact the Governor [518-474-8390] and Director Mujica [(518) 474-2300]  to demand release of the police reform plans:

Frank ANechiarico is the Maynard-Knox Professor of Government and Law, Hamilton College and Convener, College-Community Partnership for Racial Justice  fanechia@hamilton.edu

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staffhttp://www.uticaphoenix.net
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