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Police reform committee releases survey for residents: Sets up forums for stakeholders, residents

Islanders are being asked to evaluate the Shelter Island Police Department and give recommendations to improve service.

An online survey, in English and Spanish, is now open and residents are asked to participate in upcoming “listening sessions” with a town committee called the Shelter Island Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.

These steps must be followed and a new plan for policing presented to the state by April 1, by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to be eligible for future state funding.

The online survey, which can be found on the town’s website — shelterislandtown.us/, click on Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Survey — consists of 15 questions, ranging from whether Islanders feel safe in their neighborhoods or while driving, shopping and working, to whether they have confidence in the Police Department and to evaluate recent encounters with police officers.

Hard copies of the survey, also in English and Spanish, can be obtained at Town Hall and the Library.

The survey shouldn’t be confused with complaint forms filed by those who have issues with the handling of a particular case, which should be filed with the Shelter Island Police Department or with Supervisor Gerry Siller so they can be investigated. Mr. Siller and his colleagues on the Town Board are the Island’s police commissioners.

Representatives from demographic groups — such as high school students or Latino residents — and from institutions within the community, labeled as “stakeholders,” will be given a chance to express opinions and recommendations at upcoming virtual meetings with the committee. After that, there will be a virtual public forum where any resident can be heard.

When the police reform committee was being set up, Police Chief Jim Read said his  department would do a complete review of its policies.

“The SIPD embraces opportunity for growth and we practice a philosophy of continuing improvement every day,” he said, promising more information as efforts to address issues might arise.

He’s also noted that the department has averaged one complaint every other year for the past 10 years. The complaints have generally been from people about their treatment by police while being searched; police efforts to restrict access to certain places; a police officer accused of harassing someone while the officer was off duty; or similar issues that had to be investigated. 

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.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, the committee identified the stakeholders that will be asked to provide representatives for their views over the next two meetings. These include: the County District Attorney’s office; the public defender; The Retreat — an East-Hampton-based nonprofit that assists families experiencing abusive situations; Shelter Island School officials; students and high school graduates; OLA — an East End Latino advocacy group; the Chamber of Commerce; the churches; Senior Services; the Fire District; EMS Services; the Library; the Highway Department; workers who come to the Island for day labor; the Heights; Dering Harbor; Shelter Island Patrolman’s Benevolent Association; the ferry companies; regional representatives of the NAACP; and Wille Jenkins of Bridgehampton, to represent Black Lives Matter movement on the East End.

The public forum, where any resident can weigh in, is scheduled for March 3 via Zoom (the Reporter will publish the time and Zoom access), The committee will present its report to the Town Board at its meeting on March 26.