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In split vote, Town Board approves police reform plan

In a split vote Wednesday, the Southold Town Board voted to approve the “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan.”

Board members Jim Dinizio and Jill Doherty cast the dissenting votes, citing their opposition to a recommendation in the plan that called for creating a new working group to help implement aspects of the plan and continue strengthening the dialogue between the police and community.

Both Mr. Dinizio and Ms. Doherty cast their no votes but praised the Justice Review & Reform Task Force for their work on the plan.

While he said he agreed with many aspects included in the 279-page document, Mr. Dinizio said he couldn’t support the formation of a new committee, arguing that the pre-existing police advisory committee and Anti-Bias Task Force have a similar mission.

“I don’t see the duplication as being a productive way to conduct business in this town,” he said.

Ms. Doherty agreed and said she felt the process was rushed. She advocated for moving through the accreditation process, which Mr. Dinizio has championed in recent years, and using that as a framework to determine what the department’s weaknesses are.

“The $600,000 [in state funding] we might lose if we don’t [submit the plan] by April 1 is insignificant to what accreditation is going to have us spend,” she said.

Supervisor Scott Russell also said the timeframe was prohibitive.

“I think we lost the opportunity to have more meaningful discussions,” he said, adding that he believes the final document reflects the spirit of the recommendations outlined in the task force report.

Several community members and task force members spoke during Tuesday’s meeting applauding the town for their endorsement of the plan.

“This is a working document that we can continue to collaborate on,” said Christopher North.

Resident Sandra Benedetto said adopting the plan is an “important step” forward.

“I’m very happy to see that my town’s leadership has moved to accept it,” she said.

Original Story: The Southold Town Board will convene for a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday to vote on the adoption of a police reform plan developed by the town Justice Review & Reform Task Force.

Adopted plans are due to be submitted to the state Budget Office by April 1 under an executive order issued by the governor last year that requires all municipalities who have police departments to develop reform plans with community input.

Prior to the executive order was issued, members of the North Fork Unity Action Committee and Southold Anti-Bias Task Force called on Southold Town to engage in an “independent, proactive and comprehensive assessment” of the town’s police department and justice system.

Their urgent call to action came in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last spring, a time when nationwide outrage about police brutality and racial injustice reached a flashpoint.

Wednesday also marks the third day of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and second-degree unintentional murder in connection to Mr. Floyd’s death. Three other officers present during the incident are also facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Southold’s task force began holding regular virtual meetings in September and conducted public listening sessions as well as surveys of both community members and police officers.

The 279-page report included recommendations that would strengthen community relations, improve officer training and mental health, diversify the department and explore new technology, including body cameras.

The Town Board met for special work sessions on both Friday and Monday to debate the recommendations and make some edits to the plan.

Rather than form a Community-Police Partnership Committee as written in the task force plan, the Town Board may reimagine the role of the Police Advisory Committee and Anti-Bias Task Force.

“There is no need to reinvent the wheel and the idea of an oversight committee we felt wasn’t warranted,” Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday.

Working with the Town Board, police and PBA officials, a few members from each of those committees may work on an “implementation and outreach program,” that would partner with community organizations that represent a broad range of citizens in order to foster dialogue.

“The working group will help strengthen the relationship between the police department and the public, provide more transparency, make the complaint process easier, expand our role as Commissioners and create collaboration with the community,” Mr. Russell said. “There are a lot of active and dedicated people in the community and we look forward to collaborating with them.”

Mr. Russell said the recommendations included in the final plan will also provide an easier to understand and more transparent complaint process that gives the Town Board — which doubles as a board of police commissioners — a larger role.

“We tried to stay within the spirit of the document as best we could,” Mr. Russell said.

“Most of the recommendations are already underway as part of the effort by Chief [Martin] Flatley as he undertakes accreditation. I am drafting an ‘implementation plan/status’ report under each section because I think it’s important to highlight the changes that have already been made or are already in the works.”

Tonight’s meeting, which will be held virtually via Zoom, can be accessed via the town’s website.