Members of the Community Organize to Deliver Detailed Critique New Rochelle Police Reform Plan

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — On February 9, 2021 more than two dozens New Rochelle residents came together to deliver a detailed response to the City of New Rochelle Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan at a City Council Hearing on the subject.

The group objected on several points. They believed City Manager Charles Strome was dismissive, that Mayor Noam Bramson and Councilwoman Ramos-Herbert failed the community in dropping the recommendation to have a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and that Christopher Greco, President of the New Rochelle PBA used “White Supremicist” language on the NRPBA Facebook page. They also felt that requiring Implicit Bias is not enough and called for Anti-Racist Training. Not mentioned is that David Peters, one of the speakers, is paid to give Anti-Racist Training.

In June 2020, Governor Cuomo enacted an executive order on Police Reform and Reinvention requiring each government entity in New York which has a police agency to perform a comprehensive review of current police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures and practices and develop a plan to improve these areas. This coincided with a similar request by the New Rochelle City Council, also in June 2020. The Policing Review Committee members were announced by City Manager Charles B. Strome on August 17.

The Police Review Committee was tasked to review the following issues:

  • Use of Force policy/training
  • Data disclosure and transparency
  • Community engagement
  • Oversight/Discipline/Complaint procedures
  • Equipment
  • Other issues

The Police Review Committee consisted of the following:

Members: Lisa Burton, Alvin Clayton , Kwamain Dixon. Natasha Fapohunda, Robin Frankel, Nat Harris, Carmelo Hernandez, Will Iannuzzi, Jason Labate, Wynter Parham. Wendell, Sears, Emma Silva, Jabari Skeene, Steven Sonet.

Staff Representatives: Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller, Deputy Police Commissioner Robert Gazzola, Chief of Staff/Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill, City Manager Charles B. Strome, III

Facilitator: Council Member Yadira Ramos-Herbert

The Committee met throughout the fall and a draft report was presented to City Council at the Council’s November 24 special meeting. The Governor’s Executive Order requires a report submission by April 1, 2021.

At the February 9, 2021 hearing, 26 people took turns reading the following statement during the hearing.

Mayor Bramson and members of the City Council:

The murder of George Floyd last summer raised the awareness of the entire country and the world about the issues of police violence and systemic racism. Across the country, and here in New Rochelle, people of all backgrounds rose up to name these problems and demand an end, once and for all, to racist policing. New Rochelle, in particular, was rocked by the police killing of Kamal Flowers, which has never been adequately explained and for which no one has been held accountable.

The week following Kamal’s death, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order mandating local governments with police agencies to perform a comprehensive review of deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices and to submit a plan for reform based on the review. The introduction of the executive order makes it clear that the purpose of the reform is to directly address the needs of African American people and people of color, whose needs for real safety, transparency, and accountability are not being prioritized because of racially discriminatory policing.

Here are the qualifying statements of the order:

WHEREAS, beginning on May 25, 2020, following the police-involved death of George FIoyd 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; and

WHEREAS, there is a long and painful history in New York State of discrimination and mistreatment of black and African-American citizens dating back to the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in America; and

WHEREAS, this recent history includes a number of incidents involving the police that have resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians, predominantly black and African- American men, that have undermined the public’s confidence and trust in our system of law enforcement and criminal justice, and such condition is ongoing and urgently needs to be rectified; and

WHEREAS, these deaths in New York State include those of Anthony Baez, Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zango, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Patrick Dorismond, Akai Gurley, and Eric Garner, amongst others, and, in other states, include Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Antwon Rose Jr., Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, amongst others,

WHEREAS, these needless deaths have led me to sign into law the Say Their Name Agenda which reforms aspects of policing in New York State; and

WHEREAS, government has a responsibility to ensure that all of its citizens are treated equally, fairly, and justly before the law; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, the foregoing compels me to conclude that urgent and immediate action is needed to eliminate racial inequities in policing, to modify and modernize policing strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, and to develop practices to better address the particular needs of communities of color to promote public safety, improve community engagement, and foster trust…

In response to the Governor’s order, New Rochelle created a Policing Review Committee consisting of 15 community representatives and several city and NRPD officials. This committee held a series of public meetings and issued a report on November 4, 2020, containing a number of specific recommendations.

Several members of the committee have since reported that NRPD representatives and the City Manager were uncooperative, dismissive, and resistant to the committee’s efforts to understand the operations of the NRPD and propose meaningful reforms.

The City Manager commented on many of the Committee’s recommendations, in most cases dismissing them as already in place, too expensive, or otherwise impractical. He used a legal opinion noting the need to preserve the disciplinary authority of the police commissioner to entirely dismiss the proposal for a civilian complaint review board. This proposal is widely supported in the community and does not require the police commissioner to yield any disciplinary authority.

The Mayor and Councilwoman Ramos-Herbert submitted their own set of proposed police reforms which omitted any mention of a civilian complaint review board.

On January 12, the city leadership submitted a “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan” to the City Council. This plan was substantially different from the recommendations of the original Policing Review Committee and again omitted any mention of a CCRB. After citizens at the Council meeting on January 12 noted the proposal’s failure to address the fundamental issue of systemic racism, an introduction was added affirming “the hard reality of racial bias within our city,” and acknowledging that “people of color in New Rochelle are much more likely than white residents to be the subject of police interventions, more likely to interact with the criminal justice system, and more likely to experience these contacts in negative terms.” As we all know, language is powerful, and the new introduction was a welcome addition.

However, Christopher Greco, President of the New Rochelle PBA has recently dissented against the introduction and demanded it be removed from the proposal. If Greco’s resistance represents how much the NRPD refuses to even acknowledge racial bias in policing in New Rochelle, what is our realistic expectation for the implementation and execution of police reform that honors the spirit of Cuomo’s initiative?

This question must be carefully considered. The more concrete provisions of the proposal, which had been left largely unchanged, are the subject of this hearing.

Over the past several weeks, a series of online community meetings has been held with over 40 participants from the Black community, other communities of color, and the white community, to review the city’s proposed plan. These meetings have continued the process of stakeholder input that was ordered by the Governor, but which has lacked an official forum in New Rochelle since the Policing Review Committee was disbanded in November.

The consensus from these meetings is that the proposal currently before the Council fails to adequately address racial inequities in policing. Far from a proposal for “reinvention” or true “collaboration,” it is a plan for continued discriminatory policing without a commitment to real accountability. It is therefore completely unacceptable in its present form.

The community members who have been meeting for the past several weeks have identified specific weaknesses in the plan currently before the Council and added revisions to the language of the plan that would make it more responsive to the needs of the community. We are submitting to the Council today a comprehensive counter-proposal incorporating these revisions. We believe that all of these changes need to be incorporated into the final plan for police reform in New Rochelle if there is to be any meaningful progress towards “trust, fairness, and legitimacy,” and the elimination of “racial inequities in policing.”

For the benefit of the community at large, we will now read into the record our revisions to the proposed plan.

TITLE

The word “reinvention” should be removed from the title of this proposal. The dictionary defines “reinvention” as a “process through which something is changed so much that it appears to be entirely new.” At best, the current proposal is a modest reform plan. Calling something a “reinvention” does not make it one. We would be pleased to work with the city leadership on a true reinvention of the New Rochelle Police Department. Until then, we should name this proposal accurately as a plan for reform and collaboration. Achieving those two goals would be an impressive first step.

INTRODUCTION

The fifth paragraph of the current proposal’s Introduction inaccurately describes the death of Kamal Flowers as a “police involved shooting of a young black man.” We demand that in the police reform report introduction, the word “shooting” be replaced by “killing.” This is an absolutely necessary and substantive revision.

This description is much better than the one Detective Christopher Greco, the President of the Police Union, used to describe this fatal encounter on the PBA’s public Facebook page on December 3, 2020 – almost 6 months to the day after Kamal was killed. His sentence about Kamal was:

“In June a New Rochelle Police Officer confronted an armed felon and a “would be cop killer” who attempted to assassinate our officer, luckily he survived.”

This description reeks of racism. This is alarming language from the elected representative of our police officers, and it raises serious concerns about racist attitudes in the NRPD. It is known that some of the participants in the white supremacist attack on the Capitol in Washington on January 6 were active-duty police officers. It is not known if any of them were from New Rochelle. Any attempt to engender trust, and to demonstrate a commitment to eliminating systemic racism in the New Rochelle Police Department, must begin with the identification and elimination of any active white supremacists within the NRPD.

We therefore demand the addition of the following language after introduction paragraph 5:

“This reform plan is being reviewed in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 by a number of far-right, white nativist, nationalist and supremacist groups, some of whom were active members of the armed forces and some police and fire departments. The City of New Rochelle firmly disavows the events that occurred on January 6th and, given our knowledge of white supremacist language on the PBA website, will launch an immediate investigation into the whereabouts of all current NRPD officers on that date and an investigation into whether NRPD officers’ social media reflects white supremacist tenets or extremism. We will promptly share with the public the process and results of this investigation and measures that will be taken to avoid any future conflicts of interest, corruption and address evidence of racist, white supremacist behavior amongst those entrusted to serve the New Rochelle public.”

COMPONENT 10: ADDITIONAL ITEMS TO BE STUDIED FURTHER DURING 2021.

Regarding discipline, oversight, and accountability, the Policing Review Committee proposed the creation of a New Rochelle Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) “with discipline power.” The City Manager responded to the proposal with a legal opinion arguing that if the Police Commissioner loses final disciplinary authority, state law might require collective bargaining with the police union over disciplinary procedures.

In the document created by the Mayor and Councilwoman Ramos-Herbert, which was presented to Council as a summary of the committee’s recommendations, the recommendation for a CCRB was not included or even mentioned. It was as though it no longer existed. This original recommendation, which was the first in a list of 4 potential models for oversight, is still excluded from the reform plan.

There are many examples of Civilian Complaint Review Boards which investigate civilian complaints and recommend disciplinary action, while final disciplinary authority is retained by the police command.

Such a CCRB has operated in New York City for many years. If such a structure can function in New York City without making discipline subject to collective bargaining, surely such a structure can also be developed in New Rochelle.

Civilian Complaint Review Boards are imperfect instruments of accountability.

In New York City, some advocates have complained that the recommendations of the CCRB are too frequently overridden by the police command.

Nevertheless, the ability of a CCRB to investigate complaints, subpoena evidence, and recommend discipline provides some transparency and accountability in a system that would otherwise be completely shielded from public review.

Assigning the review of “serious incidents” and some “complaints” to a Community- Police Partnership Board is a much weaker mechanism to assure police accountability and responsiveness to civilian complaints. Investigations should not be conducted by a “partnership” including the agency under investigation. They should be conducted by a fully independent body with subpoena power. Nothing less will inspire public confidence or trust. Nothing less will adequately meet the need for systematic accountability. We therefore propose adding the following language as the first “item to be studied further during 2021:”

“The Policing Review Committee recommended ‘the creation of an all-civilian structure with discipline power.’ This committee would ‘assist in determining policy for the police department, share policy and policy changes in publicly accessible formats, hold public disciplinary hearings, discipline and dismiss police officers and participate in hiring decisions of the Police Commissioner. This group would also receive, investigate and resolve all civilian complaints against police in 120 days, access crime scenes, subpoena witnesses and files with penalties for non-compliance and interrogate officers less than 48 hours after an incident where deadly force is used and other powers.’

It appears that under state law, sole disciplinary authority must be retained by the Police Commissioner. However, a Citizens Complaint Review Board (CCRB) can perform many of the functions recommended by the Policing Review Committee and can make disciplinary recommendations to the Police Commissioner following investigation of specific incidents. This model of civilian review of police activities is used in New York City and many other jurisdictions around the country. In particular, CCRBs may be legally empowered in New York State to ‘compel the attendance of witnesses and require the production of such records and other materials as are necessary for the investigation of matters within its jurisdiction’ (NYC Charter Chapter 18-A).

For a CCRB to succeed in its mission, the communities most directly impacted by the “discrimination and mistreatment of black and African Americans”, as stated in the executive order, must be well represented and must be involved in selecting members of the Board.

The City Council will immediately convene a committee with robust community participation to fully study proposals for a New Rochelle Civilian Complaint Review Board, drawing on the experiences of other jurisdictions. This committee will present its findings to the City Council no later than the end of 2021. Based on the findings of this committee, the City Council will take steps to implement an appropriate New Rochelle CCRB during calendar year 2022.”

COMPONENT 1: ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMUNITY-POLICE PARTNERSHIP

BOARD

The proposed Community-Police Partnership Board, or CPPB, fails to guarantee adequate representation for communities most heavily impacted by excessive and discriminatory policing, and its powers and responsibilities are insufficient to assure any meaningful input or impact on police activities. As currently constituted, it could easily function to prevent transparency and accountability and preserve the status quo, and continue to disempower the Black community. We therefore propose the following changes:

Under “Mission and Responsibilities”, the current plan proposes that the CPPB be responsible for reviews of “NRPD training protocols and use of force policies.” The plan also proposes that such reviews should occur “as often as deemed necessary and no less than annually,” but it does not say who can deem a review necessary. The current language around the CPPB advising the commissioner is also inadequate. The scope is too narrow. We therefore propose the following changes:

We propose to hold the CPPB responsible “to review and recommend improvements to NRPD training protocols and all policies governing interactions with community members, including use-of-force policies. Such reviews should occur as often as deemed necessary by a majority of the Board and no less than annually. The CPPB will advise the Police Commissioner on all disciplinary matters related to any serious incident.”

In the subsection on “Membership” of the CPPB, the current proposal for selection of General Community members fails to assure adequate representation for communities most heavily impacted by excessive and discriminatory policing. We propose that the Appointing Authority be amended to read,“Nominated as a slate by the Mayor based on a public application process, and confirmed by a majority vote of the City Council.” We also propose that the Composition of General Community

Members be amended to read as follows:

“Composition: Residents of New Rochelle, not presently employed by the city, with experiences, skills, leadership roles, and perspectives that add meaningful value to the work of the CPPB, such as knowledge of and/or training in trauma based recognition and mitigation, direct experience with police action that has impacted their lives (such as loss of a family member or removal of a child to foster care), and a nuanced understanding of structural racism. A majority of General Community members must represent communities with high numbers of interactions with the police, at least one of whom must be less than 30 years old.”

We further propose that the Community Co-Chair be “drawn from the General Community members of the CPPB and nominated by the Mayor based on the recommendations of the General Community members of the CPPB and confirmed by a majority vote of the City Council.”

Under “Meeting Schedule”, the minimum frequency of CPPB meetings should be changed from “quarterly” to “bimonthly.”

In the next subsection, the definition provided for “Serious Incidents” is far too narrow. We propose that serious incidents include “The discharge of a firearm by a New Rochelle Police Officer or other New Rochelle official conducting an enforcement activity,” deleting the requirement that the discharge of a firearm must “result in human injury or death.” In other words, any discharge of a firearm is a serious incident. In addition, we propose that serious incidents include “the death or serious injury of a person while in custody of a New Rochelle Police Officer or other New Rochelle official conducting an enforcement activity,” adding the words “or serious injury.” A suspect need not die in custody for an incident to be considered “serious.”

Under the subsection “Training for the CPPB,” we propose adding the following language: “All members of the CPPB shall be required to participate in at least 16 hours of anti- racist training annually.

Content and facilitation of the anti-racist training will be determined by the General Community members of the CPPB.”

COMPONENT 2: UNDERTAKE IMPLICIT BIAS TRAINING

Implicit bias training is not sufficient training for NRPD officers engaging in policing of the Black community and other communities of color. More extensive training is required to counteract pervasive cultural influences and systemic racism. We therefore propose to amend this section to read, “Although the CPPB will review training protocols, the Police Department will continue to provide implicit bias training and will incorporate at least 16 hours of anti-racist training into its regular annual training program for all NRPD officers and staff.” The title of this component should be amended to read, “Undertake Implicit Bias and Anti-Racist Training.”

COMPONENT 3: ESTABLISHMENT OF A COMPLETE BODY CAMERA AND DASHBOARD CAMERA PROGRAM

We support the implementation of this program, but its development and implementation require much greater community input and participation than the proposal currently envisions. The design of a body camera program is critical to ensure that it fully records all encounters and is not subject to selective recording, editing, retention, or access to data. We propose to delete the sentence, “The City Manager and NRPD shall provide City Council with an update on the implementation of this program, including a description of how data will be retained, by September 1, 2021,” and replace it with the following language:

“The camera program will meet the following conditions:

  1. If an outside vendor is to be engaged to develop the program, all steps of the procurement process will be fully transparent to the public, with opportunities for public comment, including
    a. The development of a Request for Proposal
    b. Review of proposals in response to the RFP
    c. Final selection of a vendor
  2. A timeline will be developed for each step in the procurement and implementation process, with monthly reports to the City Council and the public until the program is fully implemented.
  3. The implementation plan will include comprehensive training in the use of the program for the NRPD and for the public.
  4. The program will require activation of cameras and microphones for all officers at all times while on active duty.
  5. Clear penalties will be established and enforced for any officer who interferes with the continuous operation of cameras and microphones.
  6. All videos will be clearly tagged, labeled, and filed to facilitate retrieval, and will be retained for at least 18 months or until all complaints or investigations related to the recorded content are resolved, whichever is later.”

COMPONENT 4: CREATION OF AN INSPECTOR GENERAL POSITION WITHIN

THE CITY GOVERNMENT

We support the creation of this position, but its scope and operations must be more clearly delineated. The IG should be charged with investigating and resolving not only “complaints or allegations of misconduct,” but rather “complaints or allegations of misconduct, abuse of power, corruption, fraud

and waste.” We also propose the addition of the following language to this section: “The Inspector General will be independent from the NRPD and all other city departments and agencies. The IG will have administrative subpoena power to do this work effectively, including, requiring by subpoena the production of all information, documents, reports, answers, records, accounts, papers, and other data and documentary evidence necessary in the performance of the functions assigned to the IG. Procedures other than subpoenas shall be used by the Inspector General to obtain documents and information from city agencies. The IG will be responsible for reviewing policies and issue reports on the complaints and allegations of misconduct that they investigate.

These reports shall be made available to the public. The City Council will review the IG’s reports and adopt policies and procedures to address the IG’s findings and recommendations. The IG will issue semiannual reports summarizing the IG’s activities, findings, recommendations, and accomplishments since the prior reporting period. A hiring committee made up of members of the public will be established to provide transparency and accountability to the IG hiring process. The existence of the Office of Inspector General will be publicized to the New Rochelle community.”

Because the proposed deadline for hiring the IG has already passed, we propose that the deadline be extended from February 1 to March 1, 2021.

COMPONENT 5: ESTABLISHMENT OF A POSITION IN THE POLICE DEPARTMENT TO UPDATE ITS WEBSITE AND DEVELOP A PROGRAM TO PROVIDE RELEVANT INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC.

Data transparency is essential to police reform. Data is essential to identify problematic patterns of policing and measure the impact of reform measures. We support the comprehensive data overhaul proposed in the current plan, but it requires more detail to assure that data is comprehensive, timely, digestible, and freely available to the public, and that the community is involved in the development of the program. We therefore propose the addition of the following language to the proposal:

“By June 1, 2021 the NRPD will present a plan to the City Council that is responsive to the committee’s recommendation. The plan will meet at least the following conditions:

  1. Disaggregated demographic data regarding the race, ethnicity, and gender of all arrestees, suspects, victims, complainants, and involved officers will be provided to allow analysis of the fairness of police interactions with the public and other patterns of police activity. Community members involved in contacts with police officers will be asked to self-identify and confirm their race, ethnicity, and gender to assure correct identifications.
  2. Raw data will be provided in a free, downloadable, and searchable format that will allow interested parties to independently query the data.
  3. Aggregate data will be translated into easily digestible formats, including graphics, maps, and written narratives.
  4. Mapping software (e.g. CityProtect) will be integrated into the NRPD’s online presence to allow quick visualization of current geographic policing patterns.

Community input will be sought and incorporated in the planning and implementation of this system. The data plan will adhere to any legal limitations on the transparency of policing data.”

COMPONENT 6: DEVELOPMENT OF AN ONLINE SYSTEM FOR FILING

COMPLAINTS

We support this proposal, but stronger protections against retaliation are needed not only for complainants, but also for any witnesses to alleged offenses. We therefore propose that the language be amended as follows:

“All identifying information of complainants, or any witness to the alleged offense, should be held confidential and restricted to only those with the need to investigate, resolve or adjudicate such complaints and subject to a strictly enforced retaliation policy which confirms that any retaliation against any complainant, or any witness to the alleged offense, will result in disciplinary action and possible termination by the offending officer. The retaliation policy should be clearly stated on the complaint form.”

COMPONENT 7: CONSIDER JOINING PROPOSED COUNTY PROGRAMS

The availability of a county-level Crisis Responder program or a county-wide Civilian Complaint Review Board does not necessarily imply that New Rochelle would be best served by such programs. In particular, a county-wide Civilian Complaint Review Board is likely to be too far from local representation and control to engender confidence. We propose deleting the second paragraph of this section and replacing it with the following:

“The City Council directs the City Manager and Police Department to review County level shared services for both Crisis Responders and the establishment of a Countywide Civilian Complaint Review Board should the County implement one or more of these programs. The review should be undertaken not with an eye toward participating in County programs, rather, with the goal of learning from the County’s experience and adopting City services and policies that are appropriate for residents of the City of New Rochelle.”

COMPONENT 8: WORK WITH INTERESTED COMMUNITY GROUPS TO ESTABLISH A RESIDENTS SECURITY OFFICER PROGRAM

COMPONENT 9: PROVIDE WEBSITE INFORMATION AND ALL UNDERLYING DOCUMENTS IN BOTH ENGLISH AND SPANISH

We agree with the proposals in these two sections.

CONCLUSION

Eliminating systemic racism in New Rochelle City Government and Services, especially in the police department, will require all hands on deck. We urge you to review the above-mentioned changes as important and necessary components for transparency and true partnership with community in policing.

We know that some will see our suggestions as onerous, excessive and cumbersome. All those who bristle at our suggestions are comfortable with the ways things are—they represent the status quo.

Executive Order 203 is not about supporting the status quo and further entrenching inequities. The entire point of engaging in Cuomo’s initiative is to create, real structural change for those who are most impacted by racism, bias, prejudice and violence from public systems—empowering those who have been marginalized and harmed by our system. That will take real work and real change that shifts more power to the people. We demand that the Council, in the spirit of active engagement and collaboration, adopt our revisions and schedule another public hearing on this matter in March.

Respectfully submitted,

Lisa Burton (Member, Police Review Committee)

Leslie Gaskin

Durette Tyler

Jocelyn Ffriend

Norrell Edwards

Bruce Soloway (Member NewROAR)

Daphne Torres-Douglas

Lourdes Font

David Peters (Member NewROAR)

Michael Yellin (Member NewROAR)

Seth Markusfeld

Daniel Miller

Donna Harris West

Gene Tozzi

Jamaal Gill (Next Step Forward Initiative)

Raya Salter

Michael Cammer

Erica Itzkowitz (Member NewROAR)

Patricia O’Keefe

Nora Shwide Lemorin

Marianne Makman

Myriam Decime (NAACP Education Liaison)

Anne Zahner

Angela Farrish (NRMHA, Black Clergy Rapid Resonse Team)

Nicole Alifante

Steven Itzkowitz (Member NewROAR)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Where we knew of a relevant assocation of a particular name above we have added it, and will add more details as that becomes available.

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