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Hempstead Village committee to focus on police reform

Hempstead Village is forming a committee aimed at improving the relationship between police officers and the community they serve, village officials said Thursday. Hempstead Village Mayor Don Ryan said he expect the committee "to be at the forefront of community policing for neighborhoods where there are high numbers of interactions." Newsday's Steve Langford has the story. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware

Hempstead Village is forming a committee aimed at improving the relationship between police officers and the community they serve, village officials said Thursday.

The Hempstead Police Reform and Reinvention Committee, comprised of village board members and police as well as community leaders and clergy, will hold their first public meeting next week to gather input and inform attendees about police procedures.

"The committee will review current police force deployments, strategies, polices, procedures and practices to improve in those areas," Mayor Don Ryan said. "I expect it to be at the forefront of community policing for neighborhoods where there are high numbers of interactions. In light of the tension in the nation, I am proud to work with this highly skilled group of people that will ensure our village is a great place to live, work and play."

Retired law enforcement, members of the Hempstead branch of the NAACP, the Terrace Avenue Civic Association, and public defenders will also be part of the committee.

Formation of the committee comes in response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's June executive order mandating that 500 police departments statewide adopt police reform plans by April 2021 or risk losing state funding.

State officials said 146 jurisdictions, including several on Long Island, have begun enacting reforms required by Cuomo's order. Requirements include police departments recommending changes in how they operate — with community input — and submitting them to the state budget director.

Cuomo's actions followed widespread protests in New York and across the country after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody.

"These are moments for positive change. They're hard," Cuomo said in August. "They're disruptive but there is no change without disruption. Disruption is the price of change and progress and this is a moment for disruption."

Hempstead Village is the only police department on Long Island that serves a population of more than 80% Black and Latino residents, Ryan said. Village Police Chief Paul Johnson is one of the few Black chiefs in the state.

The village board also recently reformed its code to clarify when police and other village employees would be covered for any civil liabilities involving acts in the scope of their duties.

Separately, police pointed to an Oct. 10 incident to show that officers are already using restraint when responding to calls.

Johnson said two officers heard gunshots at 2:20 a.m. on West Columbia Street where gang members were chasing another man with a machete. A gunman fired two shots toward the man before village police officers drew their weapons and ordered him to stop.

The gunman instead fired at police, Johnson said, but the officers ducked and did not return fire. They later arrested the gunman and recovered a weapon.

Johnson said he is looking forward to talking with community leaders about their concerns regarding the police department and sharing police procedures.

"Ideally we’re going to come to common grounds on the way we do policing," Johnson said. "I think there needs to be better understanding from the public on how we operate and police procedures. It’s a chance for them to tell us what we’re doing wrong and have a discussion to improve on those things."

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