Dozens of police reform advocates called Thursday for Suffolk County to create a civilian complaint review board, saying the county’s proposed reform plan fails to hold police accountable for misconduct.
Advocates and residents spoke Thursday night on the county’s proposal in a third and final legislative public hearing that was expected to last five hours. Residents, community groups and clergy said the county plan does not go far enough to address racism and bias in policing.
The plan also goes against calls to reduce all interaction with police, especially through proposals to expand a county school resource officer program and boost community policing.
The county plan won't improve accountability or build community trust, advocates said, because it lacks a civilian review board and an independent inspector general’s office to investigate allegations of misconduct, bias and excessive force. The plan would give the Suffolk Human Rights Commission new power.
"This is massively important," reform advocate Elena Faverio said at the hearing. "The police cannot police themselves."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released the Suffolk County Police Reform and Reinvention Task Force Draft Report on Thursday to satisfy Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s mandate that local governments statewide develop police reform plans by April 1 or risk losing state funding.
Cuomo's order came weeks after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody kindled months of nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed Black people.
Deputy Suffolk County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter, who chaired the task force, said drafting the county plan involved collaboration with advocacy groups, community leaders, police unions, county officials and residents to bring "true change and reform." The plan will expand the use of body cameras and boost the role of mental health professionals in responding to police 911 calls.
In hours of testimony over the past week, residents spoke out about their own negative interactions with county police, including being pulled over a disproportionate number of times because of their race, and facing delays in responses to domestic violence calls because of a lack of Spanish-speaking officers.
"How does the Suffolk County Police Department plan to move forward with this reform when these kinds of issues are still in existence today?" said the Rev. Robert Dickerson, adding that police refused to take down a sexual assault report for a relative in 2012 and used racial slurs against him.
Advocates said the county plan is not aggressive enough, especially in light of recent high-profile examples of abuse. Those include the recent body camera footage showing Suffolk officers kicking alleged auto theft suspect Christopher Cruz in Mount Sinai last month.
"I don’t want a police reform plan that defends the men who kicked and beat and cursed at Christopher Cruz while he was handcuffed," activist Shoshana Hershkowitz of Long Island Progressives Action Network said during the hearing. "I don’t want a reform plan that defends the officers that stood there and didn’t report it."
Activists also cited recent reports by Newsday — one showing the a county police union spent millions in campaign contributions despite state limits, and another that found Suffolk police stopped Black drivers four times more often than whites, and Hispanic drivers twice as often. They also emphasized that the police department has been under consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice for discrimination since 2014.
Representatives of community groups including Long Island Network for Change and United for Justice in Policing LI urged county legislators Tuesday to adopt "The People’s Plan" instead. The 310-page proposal outlines a more "holistic" approach to police reform than the county's, group representatives said Tuesday.
Advocates said they opposed a plan to expand the school resource officer program to middle schools, saying students of color will be policed more than white students and that the program strengthens the school-to-prison pipeline. They also called for mental health professionals to have an expanded role in responding to 911 calls.
Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe said, "We believe that a better way to go is to leave it to the individual communities as to whether they want a school resource officer in their schools."
"We’re given a unique opportunity to make Suffolk County really be a leader when it comes to police reform," said Shanequa Levin, of LI United to Transform Policing and Community Safety. "We know we can’t end racism and bias, but we can reduce encounters."