Suffolk police officials want to know what county residents think the department needs to do to fulfill Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s mandate to reinvent and modernize policing.
The department will mail questionnaires about its performance to 6,000 residents who have had recent contact with police — including crime victims, accident victims, witnesses and people who filed complaints about officers — later this month.
“We’re looking forward to getting the results and seeing how we are doing as a department,” Suffolk police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We want to check in with people and make sure they feel they are being treated fairly. If they filed a complaint against our officer, did they feel we took that complaint seriously and followed through on it?”
The John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, an Albany-based criminal justice think tank, will also call Suffolk residents to poll them on their attitudes about policing. Residents contacted by mail or phone will be given the opportunity to participate online if they prefer.
The Finn Institute will analyze the data gleaned from the surveys and phone calls and prepare a report on its findings, the commissioner said. The information will then be shared with police and county officials working to fulfill Cuomo’s directive to revamp policing.
The Finn Institute data will also be shared with a 30-member task force with a similar agenda that was announced by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday. The panel includes Hart, other law-enforcement leaders, lawmakers, civil rights advocates and representatives of religious communities.
“This survey is a valuable tool that will enable the County to gauge feedback from the public and their experiences with our police department,” Bellone said. “This is part of our ongoing process to ensure for an open dialogue that will better inform the development of our comprehensive policing plan.”
The survey will be offered in Spanish as well as English, Hart said.
“I do want to encourage people, if they receive the letter or the phone call, I would encourage them to participate in the survey,” Hart said. “It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and we think it will be a really valuable tool for us.”
Cuomo ordered local governments across New York state to develop the plans in June, a few weeks after George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police kindled months of nationwide protests over the deaths and injuries of unarmed Black men during encounters with police. The plans must be approved by the Suffolk legislature and submitted to the governor’s office by April 1, 2021, or the municipalities risk the loss of state funds.
The order came after Cuomo signed a package of laws approved by the State Legislature to increase police oversight and reduce police brutality.
“As we launch the task force and as we start our process to look at the police department and things we can do better, it is important for us to hear from everybody,” Hart said. “We want to make sure we are hearing from all the communities that are affected by the police, that interact with the police and we want to make sure we get their perspective.”