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Thursday 21 January 2021
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Local Group: Police Reform Must Include More Transparency, Education and Accountability

By Tyronda James
tyrondajames@minorityreporter.net

Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of UCLM.

The United Christian Leadership Ministry Of Western New York (UCLM) and newly formed Police Reform Proposal Committee hopes to change the course of policing in not only the city of Rochester but Monroe County as well.

Reverend Lewis Stewart III, president of UCLM who leads the over 30 member committee says that community mistrust of police is at an all time high and proposes that city and County municipalities implement their recommendations to assist in the elimination of systemic racism in law enforcement.

The UCLM committee hopes that reform proposals will promote accountability and transparency between law enforcement and communities of color.  The executive summary of police reform proposals are as follows;

  • Citizens’ Public Safety Interview Panel
  • Racial Justice Education/Training Curriculum
  • Training in De-escalation
  • Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Program
  • Pre-Arrest Diversion

The proposals are in response to NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 issued in 2020 following the deaths of Daniel Prude and George Floyd in police custody, and a mandate for municipalities in all states to submit policing reform proposals/recommendations by April 1, to the Governor’s office, according to the 42-page proposal document.

“The PAB is excited to review UCLM’s recommendations,” said Police Accountability Board Chair Shani Wilson. “Finding common ground while aiming toward fundamental change is the PAB’s mission in this process.”

There was a focus on racial justice education. Stewart said many law enforcement officers are not aware of the history of policing in this country.

In order to improve relations between community and police, Stewart said it’s important to know the history of policing and the power behind it. “Policing has really in a sense, denigrated and oppressed black and Brown people,” he said. “And hence, we get this hatred and this mistrust today. And if we’re going to move forward as a country together, we’ve got to bridge this gap.”

The committee proposes that the curriculum of their racial justice education training happen at the police academy level. So that police academy officers being trained “can understand and know not only intellectually, but experientially about racism and the systemic racism and how that impacts people of color,” said Stewart.

“The key for us in all of this is we want something that’s beyond just training, but education and retention of that knowledge,” said the Rev. Norman Roberts, a member of UCLM’s Executive Committee.

The committee also proposes a three person panel to interview police applicants prior to Police Academy admission.

“We feel that the community should be involved in the hiring of police officers who are going to serve their community,” Stewart said.

“That means that when an applicant for the police wants to be interviewed, we will receive notice from that,”  Stewart said he hopes that UCLM will be a deciding factor in terms of selecting panel representatives.

Dr. Dwight Fowler, vice president and facilitator of UCLM said there is a true sense of division among the community and law enforcement, a suspicion, and mistrust that exists now between the law enforcement agencies and police of color and Monroe County. He said the community sees the police as disconnected from them to a vast degree. 

So, there is also a call for police officers to become more familiar with the community of people they are called to serve and protect and find more positive and non-racist ways to engage community.

The idea is to develop connections and working relationships with individuals, citizens, religious institutions, businesses, neighborhood organizations, and agencies, schools, and colleges to create partnerships and reduce crime, the group said.

Stewart said he feels law enforcement forgets that they work for the people, but that law enforcement must be given the resources it needs in order to do the proper intervention in the community. “It’s going to be about saving lives. But at the same time, arresting those criminals who take lives,” he said.

Stewart said UCLM and the Police Reform Committee will just not focus on police community relations, but also on the judiciary and criminal justice system, as well as addressing gun violence in Monroe County.

 

“With the gun violence that’s going on in our community, if anybody needs the police in the community it’s black and Brown people,” he said.

Stewart also noted that UCLM’s position is not about defunding the police or abolishing the police.

“We see our recommendations as very strong, very unique, adding context relative to community policing,” said Stewart.

“We’re focusing on total police agencies in Monroe County and hoping that New York state will use UCLM’s proposals as a model to be implemented throughout NYS.

The Rochester Police Department and the Racial and Structural Equity (RASE) Commission are slated to release proposals as well.