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Police Reform Report ready for prime time: Town Board to accept report and send it to Cuomo

The public was silent at the final opportunity March 26 to comment on the Police Reform and Reinvention Report. The report goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo following next Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

Close to 580 people had commented on the draft report. And a small group of residents attended what was intended to be a listening session for more public input, but became more of a question and answer segment. The task force had also contacted organizations — the Retreat, a nonprofit assisting families experiencing abusive situations, and organizations representing Hispanic and Black interests, among them — as well as to an official at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

March 26’s meeting was meant to be the final public session at the end of the regular Town Board meeting. With close to 40 people in attendance, it might have been expected there would be some comment. But by the time the Town Board got to that discussion, the meeting on other topics had lasted more than two and a half hours and attendees via Zoom had dwindled to 16, essentially Board members and town officials.

Police Chief Jim Read told the board that his review of the report focused on the need to improve communications, including clearly explaining methods for filing complaints from residents who might not be comfortable reporting them directly to the Police Department.

Forms are available on the Police Department website or at police headquarters in the Center. But those who prefer can also file complaints with either Supervisor Gerry Siller or Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. Complaints can be filed anonymously and receive the same investigation as signed complaints.

The only advantage of a signed complaint is that if more information is needed, a request can be made to the complainant.

Another area of communication is providing training to officers to make as many as possible proficient in Spanish. The department uses a translating service, but it may not be as effective as a direct conversation between a Spanish-speaking individual and an officer.

As for diversifying a force that has no women, LatinX or Black officers, Chief Read said he has female candidates who have scored at the top of the Civil Service list from which he must recommend new hires. He called the hire of a woman officer a “top priority.” He’s hoping some fund restoration through COVID relief money and other money that wasn’t forthcoming in 2020 might soon enable a hire.

The chief also noted that suggestions of ways to expand interaction with students and with families through special programs and activities is something he and his department want.

Craig Wood, an assessor and member of some town committees, said he found members of the Police Reform Task Force receptive to questions and suggestions.

At a March 25 meeting, the five members of the task force met for a final time and heard Chief Read tell them, “There’s always ways for us to deliver better service.”

Member Don D’Amato and Mr. DeStefano, who organized the report, received kudos from their colleagues.

“You inspired us,” Ellen Gove said.

The task force has had to work diligently to get the report completed by the April 1 deadline to avoid the threat from the state that failure could result in funds that are due to municipalities could be withheld.