As protesters demanded justice for Akbar Rogers outside Freeport Village Hall on June 29, about a dozen local residents entered the building to speak with village officials about the changes they wanted to see in the way the village conducts its policing.
Although the conversation grew heated at times, village officials said the community would become more involved in forming policing policies as the village created a community advisory group a little more than a week ago to help Freeport follow police reform mandates signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 12.
“The community will have more input than ever before,” Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said, “and you will see changes in how policy is formed from now on.”
The new community advisory group, which will be formally introduced by the village later this week, consists of two officers and an advisor. Village officials said the two officers, who are black and Latina women, will be going into the community to meet with neighborhood and faith leaders, civic associations and PTAs to gather ideas as to how the police department can better serve its community.
As per Cuomo’s orders, local governments have until next April 1 to redesign their police departments or face the possibility of losing state funding. Those governments must account for the size of their police forces, the weapons they employ, their disciplinary procedures for punishing offending officers and a citizen-complaint process.
Both Kennedy and Police Deputy Chief Mike Smith also urged residents to reach out to them directly to provide their own input on policing policy.
Smith added that unlike the Nassau County Police Department, Freeport has body cameras equipped on its officers. He said the footage of those cameras is stored for 90 days, so residents who encounter a problem with police should follow up with a complaint as soon as possible.
“You can always reach out to my office, and I will follow up on any complaint,” Smith said. “We can figure out who the responding officer was through their badge number... vehicle number... or the time and day where the incident occurred.”
While residents appreciated the move to include the community in policing policy, some wanted village officials to confront the realism of implicit biases — attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously affect one's actions or decisions — in police departments.
Several of those who spoke with village officials shared their stories of how they or their family members were harassed or singled out by police officers.
Tiffany Cook accused the Freeport Police Department of over-policing black and Latino neighborhoods, which she said creates dissonance between officers and their communities.
“I have friends and family who are police officers and in the criminal justice system, so I’ve always respected the police,” Cook said, “but it’s hard to give that respect when it isn’t returned because of the color of my skin.”
Janice Batiste also spoke about how she had been pulled over by officers for “rushing,” and how her boyfriend had been pulled over for “preemptive speeding.”
Batiste added that when she had called the police about a stalking incident at her house, the officers brushed her complaints aside repeatedly.
Batiste said she wanted to see more police funding reallocated to training officers and building better communication systems with the local community.
Residents also complained about the makeup of the police department, where officers of color only make up a third of the department despite serving a majority-minority community, village and police officials said it was difficult for the village to make any changes on that front as all hiring is done through Nassau County.
While village officials were reluctant to agree with residents about the problems they had with police, they hoped the new advisory group could help build and maintain the relationship between officers and the community.
“There are about 20 to 30 points the police department needs to address to follow all of the governor’s guidelines,” said Howard Colton, village attorney. “It’ll be a long process as it addresses changes from the top of the police department to the bottom.”