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Riverhead group proposes anti-bias training for town residents, officials

Riverhead's Anti-Bias Task Force asked the Riverhead Town

Riverhead's Anti-Bias Task Force asked the Riverhead Town Board to approve several initiatives, including one to improve communication between residents and town officials, at its meeting last week. Credit: Randee Daddona

Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force is proposing several initiatives that target bias and discrimination and would improve communication between residents and town officials, which includes training sessions for officials who deal regularly with the public.

Members of the group presented the initiatives to the Riverhead Town Board at its April 8 work session at Town Hall.

The first request involves funding for training sessions that would be available to town department heads, town officials, personnel that deal with the public, and community members who take part in such vital public areas as justice court, the Riverhead School District, ambulance and fire departments.

The training would involve three modules: bias and discrimination, discovery, and transformation and healing. Each module would last 2 hours and could have as many as 50 participants, said Michelle Lynch, the task force’s vice chairwoman.

"We need to transplant the hearts of people and inspire feelings to change ideas, beliefs and thereby encourage alternative behaviors," Lynch said at the April 8 meeting.

Lynch noted that Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller told the task force that Riverhead police officers had undergone such training in the police academy, and he recommended that civilian police personnel attend the anti-bias training.

The task force has $3,000 in its budget that can used for the training, town officials said.

The group also requested funding for hosting a Synergy meeting to improve communication between the public and the town police department.

Cindy Clifford, the task force’s chairwoman, said her group recognizes that most police encounters were "not casual or comfortable," so the Synergy meetings would allow the public and police to interact together "in the interest of increasing communication, mutual respect, trust and promoting goodwill."

Noting that Southold’s Police Department has often held Synergy meetings, Clifford said setting up the meeting could take roughly a month or two if approved.

To get the word out for such a meeting, the group is requesting permission to set up a Facebook page to share information with the community.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar at the meeting said the town had the money for the training while also expressing her support for the Synergy meetings.

"I think it’s a great idea," Aguiar said. "I’m fully aware they are doing those meetings in the North Fork and I know that [Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley] is happy with it."

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