Nationwide protests this year over reported cases of police brutality have justifiably led to calls for a review of how to make law enforcement procedures more effective.
Officers have taken on many more responsibilities due to significant cuts in social services by municipal governments over the past several decades. In some communities, they answer virtually every emergency call — whether it requires a police response or not.
It’s fair to consider that sending in law enforcement agents is not appropriate in all cases. Other professionals such as counselors or social workers may be better suited to handle some situations.
Several months ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced measures designed to reform policies and procedures affecting how law enforcement agencies operate. He signed bills to provide more transparency of officers’ disciplinary records, prohibit chokeholds, outlawing race-based 911 reports deemed to be false and designate the state attorney general as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement agents, according to a news release issued June 12 by the governor’s office.
He also signed an executive order establishing the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. This requires “local police agencies … to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment including but not limited to use of force,” according to the news release.
The executive order calls on all police departments to engage stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools; present a plan, by chief executive and head of the local police force, to the public for comment; after consideration of any comments, present such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate), which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and have the plan certified by April 1 to ensure the police force remains eligible to receive future state funding.
New York City will begin a pilot program early next year in a few areas to test some of its police reform proposals. This could serve as a model for other communities throughout the state as they consider what changes in law enforcement need to be made.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Nov. 10 that mental health authorities would respond to calls pertaining specifically to mental health situations in two precincts of the New York Police Department. The program will begin in February.
“Mental health emergencies accounted for 171,490 911 calls in the city in 2019,” according to a story published Nov. 10 by the Wall Street Journal. “Under existing protocols, 911 calls reporting individuals experiencing emotional distress are fielded by New York Police Department officers and emergency medical services responders under the Fire Department of New York. Under the pilot program, which will be launched at no additional cost to the city, the majority of such calls will be answered by social workers and mental health crisis workers employed by the city, city officials said. The NYPD will be included in such responses only in cases where a clear threat of violence has presented itself, the officials said. Those cases account for a small minority of such 911 calls, according to the officials.”
It remains to be seen whether this idea will meet the city’s goals. But officials are wise to initiate it on a limited basis. We’ll be watching to see what solutions this program may offer for some policing issues.