MASSENA — Massena village trustees have approved a state-mandated police reform plan that was required to be developed by April 1 to be eligible for continued state funding.
“Our administrator and our chief of police have been working with a wide variety of people, stakeholders and other groups,” Deputy Mayor Matthew J. LeBire told trustees on Tuesday.
Village Administrator Monique Chatland said the Massena Police Department had already been ahead of the game in completing the plan.
“Prior to issuance of that executive order, the Massena Police Department had measures in place addressing most of the issues or concerns raised by the order,” she said.
Ms. Chatland said they had identified and met with a group of stakeholders that included other law enforcement agencies, human service agencies, mental health individuals, local community members and faith-based community members to ensure they had “a diverse group from the community including those that represent or are part of marginalized persons and populations.”
The participants were sent correspondence ahead of time after they agreed to take part in the process.
“As a guide for the discussions, we posed a few questions,” Ms. Chatland said.
Among them, they asked about the participants’ familiarity with the department community policing and community outreach programs and if they felt those efforts should continue.
Chief Jason Olson said the survey indicated that they should continue to expand their community outreach and community policing efforts.
“The biggest thing that we took away from this was continuing our community outreach programs and expanding upon them,” he said.
Those efforts include partnership with the Massena Drug Free Coalition, Police Activities League and Seaway Prevention Council. They also perform car seat safety checks, work with the Drug Enforcement Agency on a drug take-back program, and raise funds by participating in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.
“We do a number of things within the community to kind of foster that police-community relation,” Chief Olson said.
The survey also asked what role, if any, the police department should play in schools, and how they felt the relationship could be strengthened between the Massena Police Department and the community. In addition, they asked, based on experience, “how do you feel as though Massena PD responds to incidents that may include members of the community that are vulnerable and could be implicit bias.”
“That guided a very productive discussion with the group,” Ms. Chatland said.
Community members were also surveyed with the same questions on the village’s website, through various social media channels and via email blasts.
“We received a large number of positive responses,” she said.
Training was one of the issues that needed to be addressed in the plan. The department currently uses the services of Lexipol.
“Lexipol is a company that we contract with that is comprised of many experts in law enforcement, including attorneys. They provide us a very comprehensive policy and procedure manual that’s based on all modern aspects of policing. It keeps up to date and current with all changes in the law in New York state and the federal government, things like use of force, hate crime investigations, and specific trainings like banning of the choke hold, which we had already banned prior to the state banning it. We don’t practice that here,” Chief Olson said.
He said, when an officer comes in for his or her duty shift, they log onto their email system and receive daily training bulletins.
“They have to go through a series of scenarios provided to them by Lexipol. Basically, they are training every shift and they are refreshing themselves on our policies and procedures and any updates that Lexipol provides. It gives them 24 hours of training per year,” Chief Olson said.
He also implemented two changes in the training plan.
“I mandated annually that we are to conduct de-escalation training for our officers. We recently sent two police officers down to White Plains, N.Y., to become certified instructors in de-escalation. So now the entire department has to be trained,” he said.
He also mandated annual training for implicit bias for the department’s officers, dispatchers, civilian personnel and anyone in the village who would like to attend.
The department has also taken steps to “demilitarize” the officers’ looks.
“Some of that came up with the public survey. We’ve taken steps to do that as long as it’s not going to diminish officer safety,” he said.
Chief Olson said that with the training and policies, they’re providing transparency for the public “so they understand what we do in certain situations that could be concerning to the public, such as use of force issues, hate crimes, first amendment assemblies, community relations and bias-based policing.”
Those policies and procedures are available for review and are updated on the village’s website.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order last year, the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which was passed by the state Legislature. It mandates a reinvention of policing strategies.
Police forces throughout the state must develop a plan by April 1 to be eligible for continued state funding. The municipality that oversees the law enforcement agency must certify, adopt and enforce the plan as a local law or risk losing future funding for their police departments.
The plan must address the law enforcement agency’s use of force, crowd management, community policing, implicit bias awareness and de-escalation training, restorative justice practices, community outreach, a transparent citizen complaint procedure and other issues specific to each community.