CARMEL, N.Y. - A report issued by a county panel of elected officials, law enforcement leaders and citizen stakeholders has recommended a litany of police procedure and policy changes, including providing de-escalation training and using dashboard and body cameras on all police officers while on duty.
The Carmel Police Department issued its own separate report as well.
The county’s Police Policy Comprehensive Review Panel, which included police chiefs from the county municipalities with police departments—including Carmel—as well as representatives from the Sheriff’s Department, was formed in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203, requiring local governments to examine their police policies and recommend changes to eliminate discrimination.
The Executive Order, issued in June 2020, came on the heels of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, which prompted nationwide civil unrest.
The 248-page report also recommends ensuring a health professional assists when police respond to mental health or substance-abuse issues; increasing the number of Spanish-speaking officers; and increasing police transparency by publishing Putnam County Sheriff’s Department policies online.
Some of the recommendations, such as relaxing civil service requirements to increase the diversity of police departments, would necessitate changes in state law. To that end, County Executive MaryEllen Odell forwarded the Police Review plan to local state representatives with a request that they consider the recommendations.
The report was sent to Albany last week to meet the state-imposed April 1 deadline.
“This was a demanding and time-consuming process and I’m very grateful to all who participated,” Odell said. “While the review was required by the state, it gave us a chance to take an honest look in the mirror and see how we are doing and where policing needs to improve in the county. I want to thank all the stakeholders and the subcommittees that contributed valuable ideas. The work is not done yet; it will be ongoing. We will continue to review police policies with an eye to equity and fairness.”
Odell chaired the county’s Police Policy Review Panel, which also included leaders of non-profits and mental-health practitioners.
Subcommittees represented various community groups, including each of the following: Putnam families; mental health and substance-use disorder; veterans; people of color; education; law enforcement; Latinx; LGBTQIA+; and clergy/community outreach/homeless.
Carla Lucchino, the leader of the Law Enforcement Subcommittee, said many common-sense ideas came out of the effort.
“My team was made up of smart, dedicated county residents with fresh perspectives and new solutions for long-standing problems,” Lucchino said.
Louis Riolo Jr., assistant superintendent for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES and leader of the Education Subcommittee, said the process helped give underrepresented communities an equal voice.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to effect real change in Putnam County with regard to police reform and improving what is already good,” Riolo said. “It’s a chance to remove weaknesses in policies that impact our fellow families, friends and members of the underrepresented communities.”
After studying the issues and listening to public comment, the subcommittees sent their final reports and recommendations to the Police Policy Review Panel.
The panel then considered the available police policies and prepared a reform plan to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of Executive Order No. 203.
“We invited local municipalities and local police to sit on the panel and share ideas and resources while they developed their own plans,” Odell said. “That is as it should be. We are one county, but the towns and villages are each unique. Their reports and reform plans should be based on the specific needs of their communities.”
Carmel Police Chief Anthony Hoffmann said his department submitted an 18-page plan of changes, updates and modifications and is looking to improve its response to mental-health-related calls and improve de-escalation training.
“We have supervisors attending crisis-intervention [classes],” he said.
The Carmel PD’s report calls for additional in-service training for all CPD members—training at both the academy and in-service levels through the Westchester County Police Academy, NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, and CPD’s own instructors. It notes that CPD exceeds minimum standards in these areas.
The report also says the department will conform with the Eric Garner anti-chokehold act. CPD members are advised via a department directive that breathing or blood-circulation restraint, or the use of a chokehold or similar restraint, constitutes a use of deadly physical force as defined in CPD policy and the NYS Penal Law and is restricted.
Hoffmann said that some public feedback called for police licensing, similar to doctors or teachers, but he noted that “a registry created by the state Department of Criminal Justice” already accomplishes that.
Together with the Daigle Law Group, the consulting firm hired by the town to assist in the project, the department will follow policies and guidelines issued by the NYS Municipal Police Training Council (MPTC) to ensure that updated policies follow federal, state, local and case law, as well as community standards.
The CPD and many police agencies throughout the state utilize the information in the MPTC’s Use of Force model policy. Carmel police are also exploring the possibility of attaining accreditation through the NYS Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. As a preliminary step in that process, the CPD has requested that the revision of its manual incorporate the state Law Enforcement Assistance Program accreditation standards. That would not only allow the CPD to maintain policies that are in accordance with accreditation standards but would also determine what areas require development to become an accredited agency.
Though the Carmel PD report has been submitted to Albany, Hoffmann said, the process of improving and updating police policies and procedures is not over.
“We will continue to engage with the community,” he said.
Supervisor Ken Schmitt, a former police officer in the CPD himself, said he was pleased with how the process played out.
“I am happy with the outcome. We did a good job of speaking with the stakeholders and getting out there in the community,” he said. “We operated in a manner consistent with the governor’s order. We are definitely incorporating new means and methods.”
Schmitt said he believes the Carmel PD is one of the best-trained departments around, but the procedure reforms will further that. He points to the addition of training to deal with implicit bias, a form of prejudice that occurs automatically and unintentionally but that nevertheless affects judgments, decisions and behaviors.
He notes that officers will be better-trained to deal with someone suffering from mental-health issues, something that was not available when he was a cop.
“Mental-health issues, what is the best method to deal with those?” he asked. “The goal is to maintain the person’s health and welfare. There was very little training in that area when I was on the force. In some cases, we would just remove the person to the hospital. There was no social interaction. Today, thankfully, there is training, and the officers will receive annual training. There are a lot more resources available today than there were years ago.”
The supervisor said he wants to make sure the relationship with the community is one of trust and understanding.
“We welcome recommendations that could result in positive changes,” he said. “The Carmel PD is a great example of training, professionalism and policy and procedure. They make Carmel a better place to live work, raise a family and visit.”
Schmitt said the policy review and update cost the town about $100,000, but believes it was money well-spent.
“I know a lot of good things came out of this executive order. Sadly, it took something like the George Floyd killing for it to happen,” he said.
Michael J. Piazza Jr., commissioner of the county Department of Social Services and Mental Health and a member of the county’s Police Policy Review Panel, said the county report’s emphasis on training was essential as well.
“The lack of mobile psychiatric crisis-intervention teams very often results in calling on law enforcement to address a psychiatric problem,” Piazza said. “While this has not occurred in Putnam, several of the high-profile incidents with bad outcomes that were the impetus for Executive Order 203 occurred because law enforcement was called to address a person in distress. Our report emphasizes our dedication to maintaining the highest standards of crisis-intervention training for our law enforcement community and for enhancing the coordination between the behavioral-health community and law enforcement.”
Some stakeholders and subcommittee groups expressed frustration with the review process, noting that they didn’t get access to all the police policies that they wanted to review, including resources and materials.
The People of Color Subcommittee suggested that an ongoing Public Accountability Committee (PAC) be established to examine policing issues going forward. The Putnam County Legislature is considering the proposal.
Scott Rhodes, a member of the People of Color Subcommittee, said the police review process was challenging at times.
“But we are ready to continue the necessary work so that there will be better community engagement and fairer police policies for communities of color,” he said.
County Legislator Ginny Nacerino, chair of the Protective Services Committee, said a PAC would have her support.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Nacerino said. “The policies that guide our law enforcement need to be transparent. The public should know how decisions are made. Still, this should not be confused with the kind of civilian review board that hears police complaints. That’s not what we are talking about.”
Odell agreed that the PAC was necessary.
“It is our hope that the proposed Public Accountability Committee continues to look at all policies in their entirety,” Odell said. “We hope the committee will work with the Sheriff’s Department for further review of its policies and orders. The whole point of this review is to modernize policing and to do that, the committee needs time to scrutinize all the policies that are in place.”
The county report can be found online at https://www.putnamcountyny.com/policereviewpanel/. The town of Carmel report can found at https://www.ci.carmel.ny.us/sites/g/files/vyhlif371/f/news/final_town_of_carmel_police_reform_report_march_11_2021.pdf.