Plattsburgh passes police reform plan that includes anti-bias training, body cameras

New York

A little more than 24 hours before a state-imposed deadline, the City of Plattsburgh Common Council approved a police reform plan Wednesday that includes recommendations that officers complete anti-racism training and wear body cameras.

Among the 20 recommendations proposed by the city’s Public Safety Review Panel is creation of a crisis-intervention team, or CIT, to respond in cases that involve signs of mental illness, as well as an officer recruitment program focusing on underrepresented populations.

Plattsburgh resident Thomas O’Keefe, a former Customs & Border Protection officer with 36 years experience in law enforcement, said at Wednesday’s meeting that anti-bias training is crucial for officers.

“I used to tell my boss all the time — in the time it takes me to blink my eye, I can make a decision that either takes a life or gives my own,” O’Keefe said. “I’m just saying, let’s make sure — I know I have biases. I have prejudice. I’ve learned to exorcise them over the years.”

The city’s plan comes as a Minneapolis jury hears testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer accused of murder in the death of George Floyd. Floyd’s death triggered nationwide outrage and protests over police killings of unarmed Black men.

In June 2020, less than a month after Floyd’s death outside a Minneapolis convenience store, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all municipalities in the state with police agencies to pass a law enforcement reform plan by midnight March 31 or lose eligibility for state funding.

In a prologue to the reform plan, Plattsburgh Mayor Christopher C. Rosenquest invoked Floyd’s name, along with those of 19 other men and women of color “who faced the same fate at the hands of law enforcement in the US.”

“[I]t’s our responsibility to create a safe community free of fear from those who are tasked with our safety,” Rosenquest wrote. “This is not only the commitment of the City of Plattsburgh’s political leadership, but more importantly it’s the driving factor for those who choose the honored profession of being a law enforcement professional.”

The plan, outlined in an 11-page document, incorporates Cuomo’s recommendation that police agencies across the state work with mental health professionals and addiction experts when confronted with a mental-health crisis.

Councilor Mike Kelly said he wanted language added that would allow other agencies in the region to use the city’s CIT. The council voted to add a shared-services agreement to the recommendation. .

“I believe, certainly, that because of the number of law enforcement agencies that do cover the City of Plattsburgh, that this being a shared service would make the most sense,” Rosenquest said.

In his letter accompanying Plattsburgh’s plan, Rosenquest said it addresses a number of policy communication and training concerns.

“For our City, this is just the beginning of an evolution of thinking and a transformation into our ways of being and acting when it comes to law enforcement and public safety,” he wrote.

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