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Community input sought as Southold Justice Review & Reform Task Force gets to work

To accomplish its mission to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the criminal justice system in Southold Town, the newly formed Southold Justice Review & Reform Task Force needs your help.

At a virtual press conference Monday held via Zoom, task force members outlined various ways the public can contribute to the group’s work and make their voices heard and share experiences — whether positive or negative — that can be used toward developing potential reforms.

“We want you to share these things with us so that we can help our police department to be the best that it can possibly be so that they can continue to serve and protect you,” said Rev. Natalie Wimberly, the vice chair of the task force’s steering committee.

She was also one of the speakers at the June candlelight vigil in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

“Your stories that you share will have the power to effect change,” she said. “Change cannot be made unless you participate in the process for change.”

The task force has created a web page, social media accounts, an email account and even a Google Voice phone number for ways people can anonymously share their experiences. A survey is also available on the website that residents are encouraged to fill out. The task force will also hold online listening sessions in December. (Instructions will be provided for changing the name displayed on the Zoom call for those who wish to remain anonymous). Caroline Peabody, who helped spearhead the effort back in June along with Sister Margaret Smyth, Laura Held and Val Shelby of the North Fork Unity Action Committee, said the task force has “an incredibly important job to do” and that starts by hearing from community members.

“I think it’s a tremendous testament to the inherent goodness of the people of Southold Town that our town leaders and the police have stepped forward to say that we want to make sure that every member of every community in our town is treated fairly with true justice and equity,” she said.

The task force plans to complete the first part of its review by April 1 to meet the deadline set by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed an executive order mandating local governments engage with community members and assess the need for and adopt policing reform plans.

Alison Byers of Cutchogue, a clinical psychologist who is part of the task force’s steering committee, described the group’s work as a three-step process.

How to connect

Online: www.southoldjusticetf.org

Email: [email protected]

Telephone: (631) 771-0828

Facebook: @Southoldjusticetf20

Instagram: @Southoldjusticetf20

Mail: PO Box 567, Mattituck, NY 11952

The first step involves listening to the community and generating data.

“We hope to evaluate the existing policies and procedures with an eye toward equity and fairness for all without bias, conscious or unconscious,” she said. “We also simultaneously need to allow the police to accomplish their tasks, safely performing their duties working side-by-side with the community.”

The final step is to develop policy recommendations that can be presented to the local town government to adopt.

There are three workgroups within the task force. One group will examine overall roles, policies, strategies and expectations of policing, Ms. Byers said. Another group will look at issues related to civilian oversight of police and specific issues of misconduct and accountability. The final group will look at training and continuing education and development.

“We’re also looking at the recruitment and screening policies,” she said.

Another component is the mental health and wellness of officers.

“Knowing as long as our police are in good order, they are better able to carry out their own responsibilities,” she said.

The task force members stressed that Southold police Chief Martin Flatley and the Town Board have been supportive of the task force’s efforts. Both Chief Flatley and Town Supervisor Scott Russell spoke briefly during Monday’s press conference.

Mr. Russell reiterated the point that the task force and its mission is a collaborative effort.

“We’re making this process as inclusive as possible,” he said.

Chief Flatley said the department remains “open and receptive to the input from the community that we serve and live in all year-round.”

Listening Sessions

Dec. 3: 7-9 p.m.
Dec. 5: 3-5 p.m.
Dec. 22: 6-9 p.m.