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Police Reform group presses ahead with survey preparations: Aim to release questions to public by end of February

The Police Reform Committee members spent Thursday morning reviewing questions to include in an online survey likely to be made public by the end of February.

The committee was set up in response to a state mandate for all departments within New York to determine ways to improve policing.

Committee member Don D’Amato, who has been researching platforms to offer a survey to the public, said Survey Monkey is the best platform for this particular effort.

The survey shouldn’t be confused with complaint forms filed by those who have issues with the handling of a particular case. Those issues should be filed either with the Shelter Island Police Department or with Supervisor Gerry Siller so they can be investigated and appropriately handled.

The survey is aimed at hearing from a wide number of people about general perceptions of the Police Department. Accordingly, members last Thursday morning reviewed questions used by two other communities to determine which might be right for Shelter Island.

Mr. D’Amato is going to review both surveys — one used by a police reform committee in Riverhead and the other from Brighton, N.Y., outside of Rochester. Mr. D’Amato  will be eliminating repeat questions or questions not relevant to Shelter Island.

Police Chief Jim Read told the committee the department has averaged one complaint every other year for the past 10 years. The complaints have generally been people who complained about their treatment by police while being searched; police efforts to restrict access to certain places; a policeman accused of harassing someone while the officer was off duty; or similar issues that had to be investigated. Those all came from citizens.

The department launched two investigations based on concerns that arose during regular police work. One was in relation to a charge that an officer failed to secure a police vehicle and the other involved an officer who was thought to have failed to take action when it was appropriate.

Citizen complaints generally have come from people willing to identify themselves — those who have either been involved with a particular situation or witnessed something they thought was inappropriate. But on occasion, a complaint is filed anonymously and those, too, are investigated, the chief said.

It helps when those filing complaints identify themselves because often more information is needed to spur a proper investigation, the chief said.

On questions about whether police are solving crimes in the community, the committee hopes people will put aside such cases as the killing of the Reverend Canon Paul Wancura who died in March 2018. The local department doesn’t handle such cases, and Suffolk County Police are continuing the investigation.

Similarly, another unsolved case involving the cutting of trees off Menhaden Lane, destroying them in January 2018 remains unsolved. That investigation is in the hands of the Suffolk County Parks Department since the trees were on Suffolk County-owned land.

What the committee hopes is that the survey will help determine if there are any systemic problems, such as mistreatment of individuals or groups of people; overuse of force in handling calls; or  under serving anyone or any group in need of more attention.

Committee members were expected to work on identifying various shareholders who would have interactions with police, including individuals or groups, court personnel, seniors, members of African-American and Latino groups, and others who might represent different perceptions of interaction with police.

The committee is still pushing forward with weekly meetings. After the survey, they expect to hold a community forum to gather more information.

While they still have a state-imposed early April deadline to complete their report, Chief Read has said he believes that as long as they continued to move forward, he believes the deadline could be extended.