Instituting a department-wide body cam program and increasing diversity among law enforcement staff are among the recommendations to improve the Southampton Town Police Department, presented as part of a state-mandated reform process.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July ordered all police agencies in New York to review their policies and procedures to address racial bias in policing or risk losing state funding. The directive came in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd, who died in May in police custody in Minneapolis.
The Southampton Community Law Enforcement Review Committee formed in late August, met virtually more than a dozen times and submitted its 265-page report to the town board last week. The document is available for review on the town website.
"I think it’s been a really healthy process," said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. "I think at first it came across as another mandate, but it turned out to be a really good exercise in self-evaluation of our police department."
The town-appointed reform committee — which included town and police department officials, representatives of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, public defenders, clergy, activists and others — hosted two community listening sessions and gathered more than 800 responses through two surveys.
Additional recommendations include expanding school resource officer sensitivity training to all officers, instituting social media background checks for new hires and adding more supervisory staff.
As for diversity, Southampton Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said a group of chiefs has asked the state to examine the Civil Service process to give local municipalities more flexibility in hiring. The report also recommended re-examining residency requirements and to consider offering jobs to provisional hires.
Of 98 full-time officers in 2019, just four identified as black and six identified as Hispanic, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services data.
"We need to start showing the representation," said committee member Minerva Perez, executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, a Latino advocacy group. "It's not even diversity anymore, it’s the representation of a place that you actually serve."
The body cam recommendation would be one of the most expensive and would take a few years to enact, Schneiderman said. The town police department in 2020 began a pilot program that outfitted two police vehicles to service body cam equipment and is examining how to proceed, Skrynecki said.
Perez said she’d like to see that process move quicker.
"There’s no big thing to study. We need to just do it," she said.
Not included in the report were formal plans to collect racial data during traffic stops, although committee members said the issue was discussed during meetings. The chief said the department does not have the "mechanics" in place to collect that information but is exploring how to do so.
"We’re in agreement that that would be good information to have," Skrynecki said.
A virtual public hearing on the plan is set for March 2 at 6 p.m. It is due to the state April 1.
With Jim Baumbach