Open communication can be a safeguard against misunderstanding.
That was the thinking three years ago behind the start of a series of Town of Southold Anti-Bias Task Force-inspired Synergy meetings involving the town’s police department and the general public. The idea was, the better the public understands how the police operate and the better the police understands the community’s concerns, the better it is for all involved.
Now, in a tumultuous 2020 that has been rocked by a pandemic, a divisive presidential election, civil unrest and allegations of police abuse in various parts of the country, Synergy may be as important as ever.
Three Synergy meetings have been held in each of the past three years. A 10th is scheduled for later this month. However, unlike the previous meetings, which have been held at various North Fork sites, this one will be held virtually for the first time in light of rising COVID-19 numbers. The Nov. 18 Zoom meeting, billed as an “open” and “respectful conversation” between the police department and the community, will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It will be moderated by James Banks, chairman of the Southampton Anti-Bias Task Force. (Click here for further information on connecting).
“One of the issues going across the country is the deterioration of the relationship between the community and the police departments and the police officers, and even though, you know, we live in a small town, we need to proactively create those channels of communication,” Sonia Spar, who co-chairs the anti-bias task force along with Val Shelby, said in a phone interview. “It provides a forum where respect and civil discourse will take place … and in the last four years we have seen a deterioration of the civil discourse.”
Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley sees value in the Synergy meetings. “To me it’s a benefit because a lot of the questions and a lot of the concerns are basically misinterpretations of how the police department works or what guidelines that we do our duties by,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to explain to people why we do this, why we do that.”
Meanwhile, on a related front, Mr. Flatley, Ms. Spar and Ms. Shelby have been named to a newly formed, 17-member Southold Justice Review & Reform Task Force to review and reform policing in Southold. The creation of this task force is in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order mandating local governments engage with community members, assess the need for and adopt policing reform plans by April 1, 2021, according to a task force press release. The task force will be officially announced at a press conference on Monday.
Mr. Flatley believes police reform and bail reform will be among the topics discussed at the Synergy meeting.
What is the status of the Southold Police Department’s relationship with the community?
“I’d like to feel it’s good, but I would be naive to say that it’s not strained a little because of the amount of outside pressure and politics and everything else that seems to be revolving around and constant focus on police departments and police operations,” Mr. Flatley said. “I think, unfortunately, a lot of people watch the media all day long, world news, and they see, you know, cases like the George Floyd case and other cases happening around the country and they naturally think that all police departments must be engaged in behavior like that, but we like to think [people] judge our police department based on your experiences with our department and what’s going on in our local community.”
Ms. Spar said trust and civil discourse are critical to all sides.
“We need to have these conversations,” she said. “We need to listen.”