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Community offers police solid suggestions: Department praised for positive interactions

It was mostly a love fest Feb. 18 at the Police Reform Committee meeting with representatives of various groups sharing experiences of interactions with the Shelter Island Police Department.

But along with many compliments about cooperation between police and these organizations, there were also suggestions for changes that can be expected to make it into the committee’s final report.

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

Among the top suggestions at the Feb. 18 meeting were calls for officers to be equipped with body cameras and cell phones to access “Language Line Solutions,” a translation service for more than 240 languages. That would improve communications between police and those who are not fluent in English, said OLA of Eastern Long Island Executive Director Minerva Perez. OLA works with the Latino and Hispanic community. Ms. Perez said some are reluctant to deal with law enforcement officers.

Lack of clear communications can result in escalating situations, she added. The Police Department uses Language Line, Chief Jim Read said, but officers use their personal cellphones, the chief said.

The department is in the process of equipping its vehicles with cameras. But two factors are hindering body cams — the cost of the cameras and maintenance of the records from them, Supervisor Gerry Siller said. What the town needs is funding, he added.

Another issue is that some might hesitate to call police if they know responding officers are recording the situation, Chief Read said. He also thinks that most encounters that could result in complaints tend to be traffic stops and those are recorded on the cameras being put in department vehicles.

There are also issues that have to be resolved involving access to body cam information through Freedom of Information requests, Chief Read said.

Body cams are “a way of proof” and “the next step” in policing, Ms. Perez said.

“You take the air out of the bubble” in the handling of complaints with body cams, she said.

South Ferry President Cliff Clark told Ms. Perez he would like to get the Language Line cell phones for crew members. She also offered to assist Mr. Clark in translating information on ferry rates and commuter passes, something that’s not always known by some people she serves.

Both Mr. Clark and South Ferry Chief Operating Officer Nicholas Morehead joined North Ferry and Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis in praising police for rapid responses when they’ve called for assistance.

“We have a great relationship,” Mr. Morehead said. Most often, calls involve administrative issues, not problems with passengers.

Ms. Lagudis said when she has called for assistance, officers arrive “in a nano second” and the representatives of both ferry companies said officers frequently are seen in ferry areas as part of their routine patrols.

Ms. Lagudis said she wishes more people could be encouraged to apply for jobs with the Police Department that could result in a diverse squad of officers.

The Retreat’s Director of Counseling Regina Mysliborski told the committee her interactions with Shelter Island Police handling domestic abuse situations have been “a breath of fresh air” compared with what she has experienced in some other communities.

Ms. Mysliborski suggested the department offer training in dealing with domestic abuse situations since the department has had several new members in recent years. But Chief Read said such training is a given at the Police Academy, so even though the officers may be new, they understand how to assist abuse victims.

Brendan Ahern from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office participated in the discussion, offering assistance to police in dealing with domestic abuse cases. Aside from issuing orders of protection, he acknowledged that he can’t force someone to move from an abusive situation or take legal action against an abuser.

All any officials can do, Ms. Mysliborski said, is help victims believe they have options.

“What are we doing wrong?” Mr. Siller asked Mr. Ahern. The DA’s representative told the supervisor there’s generally a great working relationship with the department, stressing that successful policing is all about “access and communication. Communication fosters trust,” he said.

Members of the clergy are expected to offer their views of police practices at the Feb. 25 meeting. Others expected to provide information to the committee include Fire Department, EMS and Highway Department representatives and teachers and students, Mr. Siller said.

As of the Feb. 18 meeting, 516 people had filled the survey the committee put out for more community responses and 10 of those were in Spanish, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams said. Another 34 had requested to speak with committee members and that is being done by teams of two committee members.

Mr. Siller predicted that Shelter Island will complete its report by the April 1 deadline.