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Police chief responds to task force report, questions cost of body cams

Among the recommendations outlined in Southold’s police reform report are the need to diversify the police force, establish an internal affairs bureau to better investigate complaints and begin equipping officers with body-worn cameras.

“There are some items that are definitely attainable, some we are currently in the process of implementing, but just as many that I don’t feel are necessary for our department,” Police Chief Martin Flatley said in response to the report submitted by the Southold Justice Review & Reform Task Force last week.

Ahead of a formal presentation of the proposal to the Town Board Friday, Chief Flatley submitted nine pages of comments that address some of the major recommendations included in the report.

“We are acutely aware of today’s sentiment toward the changes needed in policing throughout our country after several high profile police shootings and misconduct cases have ignited a call for change,” the chief wrote, recognizing that while Southold has not experienced similar incidents, he supports taking preventive action to preempt it.

But he questioned the need to form a community-police partnership board, arguing that an additional layer of oversight for the department is unwarranted. Instead, the chief suggested adding a section to his monthly report to give regular updates to the Town Board, who also function as police commissioners, on justice reform updates and adding two community members familiar with the reform plan to serve on the police advisory committee.

While open to training members on the tenets of procedural justice, Chief Flatley disagreed with the need for a procedural justice compliance officer and the task force’s recommendation that public hearings be held before police policies are changed.

“These orders are developed by New York State DCJS and professionals in law enforcement to instruct members of the department how to properly perform their duties as a police officer,” Chief Flatley said. “It is not necessary for the public to be involved in approving these orders, nor are most members of the public qualified to comment on the majority of our orders.”

The chief said he’d support efforts to provide enhanced training for police officers, but said budgetary restrictions, currently set at $10,000 for training, limit what’s achievable.

While efforts to diversify the police force are directly tied to the county’s civil service process, the chief conceded the department could make more effort to promote and publicize civil service test dates and enhance recruitment efforts in the community in both English and Spanish.

He also agreed that the current rotating shift schedule is difficult for officers’ overall health but noted that those must be negotiated between the town and police union.

Several other recommendations, such as updating discrimination policies, will be addressed through the accreditation process, he explained.

In his response, the chief also didn’t express support for body cameras, which have become a hot topic among criminal justice reform advocates in recent years.

He pointed to the significant cost associated with purchasing the equipment and storing the amount of video captured and said the department was one of the first to purchase in-car video systems back in 2005, which already record a significant number of interactions with the public.

The town, facing an April 1 deadline to adopt the plan and submit it to the state, is planning to hold two public listening sessions to receive feedback on the proposal, which is available online at southoldjusticetf.org. Copies are also available at each of the public libraries, officials said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday that the listening schedules will be held over the next two weeks, though no dates have been announced yet.

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