Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Police Reform Committee on track

The Police Reform and Reinvention Committee has been moving steadily toward submitting a report to New York State on local policing, a mandate every New York community is under.

The deadline to file the report is April 1, and if it’s missed, state aid might not flow.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) has announced that in a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, municipalities can ill afford not to receive aid just because of a need for more time to complete their reports. Until a few weeks ago, Shelter Island naturally assumed it would be granted an extension if necessary to submit its report.

Warned that might not be the case, the committee determined to push forward as fast as possible to meet the April deadline. Based on last week’s meeting, it was closing in on elements of the report that appears likely to be submitted on time.

The committee has taken its role seriously. We agree with member Jason Shields, who cautioned his colleagues not to draw all recommendations from a limited number of respondents to a survey or a listening session, because that could skew overall results.

Judging by the discussion last week, it appears recommendations are reflecting all the data, including what’s been gathered by members from talks with individuals in the community.

The most important suggested changes are acknowledged by Police Chief Jim Read. He agrees there’s a need for improved communication with respect to limits on hiring, both financially and in terms of the Civil Service System, which dictates who can be considered candidates for the local department.

Realistic views of spending also determine what police can do, especially when it comes to body cameras for officers.

With that in mind, we believe the chief might have a point in worrying that responses to domestic disputes could be hampered if victims hesitate to call for assistance, fearing they are being recorded on an officer-cam.

We applaud a recommendation for Spanish language courses for as many officers as possible, which can be achieved without great expense, especially if volunteers can provide assistance. The town depends on knowledgeable volunteers in many ways. Encouragement from the chief and some increased compensation for officers willing to work toward fluency could go a long way to fulfilling this important need.

Overall, we applaud the diligent work this committee has done in record time and expect the report will result in excellent improvements in an already well-functioning department.