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Greenport officials want to be a part of police reform initiatives in Southold Town

As Southold Town takes steps to form a judicial review task force, officials in Greenport are asking for a seat at the table.

The town is currently seeking resumes for six task force members, who will be responsible for reviewing current justice system policies, conducting community focus groups and recommending changes. At least one bilingual Spanish-speaking member is requested.

In a letter to fellow trustees ahead of last Thursday’s work session, Greenport Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips asked the board to send a joint letter to Southold Town officials requesting to be involved in those conversations. 

“The message from the Black Lives Matter protests along with reactions to a local issue taking place during the COVID-19 health crisis must and should rise to the level of policy and procedure changes with law enforcement including our local Southold Town Police Department,” Ms. Phillips wrote. “We should and must insist that we, representing the village residents and business public, be part of the overall education, retraining and pushing toward community policing with this executive order by [Gov. Andrew Cuomo].”

In the wake of widespread civil unrest, the executive order directs all local government entities that have police agencies to conduct comprehensive reviews of current police policies and procedures and develop an action plan.

We’re different and our policing efforts are different and it’s now time to discuss that.

Mary Bess Phillips

Police departments and municipalities must consult stakeholders, including community members, district attorneys and other officials to create and implement a plan by April 1, 2021. The plans must address use of force by police officers, crowd management, community policing, bias awareness training, de-escalation practices, restorative justice practices and community-based outreach, and must include a transparent citizen complaint procedure to handle issues raised by the community.

The order also authorizes the state budget to withhold state funding from agencies that do not comply.

At last Thursday’s work session, Ms. Phillips said community policing in the village would be a “plus” for all residents and that she’d like to discuss some issues they’ve heard from residents with town officials, including Police Chief Martin Flatley.

Trustee Peter Clarke agreed that he’d like to see some representation of the village as the discussions begin. He said he missed the kind of community policing that used to take place in the downtown area. “I understand that there’s just not people to do it but it’s greatly missed, the guys walking around you can say hello to,” he said.

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. agreed the village should communicate and said he intends to set up a meeting. “They’re on record knowing we want to have a discussion, but we haven’t had a chance to put that together yet,” he said.

Ms. Phillips noted that the village functions more like an urban area within a rural town. “We’re not really like the [other hamlets] of Southold,” she said. “We’re different and our policing efforts are different and it’s now time to discuss that,” she said.

Some ideas floated during the work session are a greater police presence and perhaps even a police outpost or precinct in the village.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the task force is intended to be a community initiative that will include the village. “There is certainly room at that table for village representatives,” he said Monday.