Police manual needs to acknowledge Town Board as commissioners, members say

The Southold Town Board expressed concern at a Tuesday work session about their lack of involvement in writing the new police policy manual.  

There’s no mention in the manual that the Southold police chief is appointed by the Town Board or that the Town Board acts as police commissioners, said Councilman Greg Doroski. The manual also does not mention Town Board oversight or consultation on revisions.

“We’re seeing the finalization of the manual before we even had the chance to review it,” Mr. Doroski said. “There’s more; these were just kind of glaring issues to me.”

“It seems like, at least as it relates to the manual, there is maybe a lack of appreciation of our role as commissioners,” he added. “I think if anything, we need to at least agree as a board that we are in fact police commissioners, we do in fact oversee the police department and it’s our responsibility.” 

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he agreed and commented that it was “surprising that the policy manual had almost been done by the time” the Town Board learned of it. He praised the diligence of the officer who worked on it but said there should have been direction from a “higher up” to consult with the Town Board throughout the process. 

Mr. Russell said the board needs to take ownership of the manual and review it. 

Chief Martin Flatley and Lt. Scott Latham presented the new policy manual to the Town Board last month, more than a year after hiring a consultant to update protocols. There are now nearly double the number of policies available in a digitized manual that ensures completion of regular training and helps the department towards accreditation.

The Town of Southold hired Lexipol last winter to provide policy updates and training for the town police department. Lexipol currently serves more than 2 million public safety and government professionals nationwide but has been criticized by advocacy groups for pushing against use-of-force reforms and recommending policies that have been described as “overly-permissive or vague.”

Former governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in 2020 requiring state police agencies to modernize policies with community input. Lexipol has been popular among New York law enforcement and is also used by the Suffolk County, Riverhead and Shelter Island police departments. 

The Southold Town Board also discussed at Tuesday’s work session a form that could be used to gather police complaints and complements that would include an option for residents to note discrimination.

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