On Jan. 21, the Peekskill Police Reform Task Force held its fourth public meeting via Zoom video conference to discuss the progress being made by its various subcommittees. The meeting was moderated by Mayor Andre Rainey and organizing committee member Suzie Erdey.
City Manager Andy Stewart opened the meeting by going over the task force’s timeline, noting that the group’s final plan is to be presented to the City Council in March and to the state, as per Governor Cuomo’s executive order, no later than April 1.
“Some types of recommendations are relatively simple, and others are more complex,” said Stewart. “When they are considered, and delivered to the City Council, it’s with the understanding that more work will be needed in order to move them forward – and money, in many cases.”
Transparency and Accountability Chair Joseph Teel discussed his committee’s goal of creating an independent, user-friendly website for citizens to file police complaints, access demographic data, and read Peekskill’s police manual.
Teel also expressed a desire to have the Peekskill Police Department accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), so that it might be “a beacon of light not only for other police departments in Westchester, but in the state.”
A major long-term goal of the committee is to establish a police review or oversight board, which would be independently funded by the city.
Tricia Pickering, of the Recruitment and Hiring committee, shared its plans for implementing an “explorers” program via the school district for young people aged 14 to 21, expanding the role of SROs (School Resource Officers), and creating a public safety program for high schoolers, which could earn them college credits.
Pickering also stressed the need for more frequent police testing, and making the tests available to a larger pool of candidates.
Policies and Procedures Chairman Derek Wright reported that he had been working closely with his committee, which includes Peekskill Police Chief Don Halmy, to update certain entries and statutes in the Peekskill Police Manual.
“We’ve been combing through ‘the Bible,’ and we’ve found a lot of things we can make 21st Century–ready,” Wright said.
Valerie Eaton, Chair of the Education, Training, and Equipment committee, presented several
of her group’s proposals, including extending the recording time of police dashcams, incorporating “approachable vehicles” such as bikes and ATVs, and emphasizing de-escalation training for substance abuse and mental health cases.
In addition, Eaton’s committee expressed the need for anti-racism education and public forums with the community.
Community Engagement Chair Jennifer Carpenter stressed the need for the Peekskill police to have a stronger connection with the residents they serve.
“The data shows that it creates relationships, reduces stress, and saves lives,” she said. “It can really help to reduce tensions when there’s a familiarity there.”
The meeting was then open to public comment, during which residents shared their thoughts on domestic abuse encounters, concerns within the LGBTQ community, and police militarization.
Throughout the night, task force members stressed the importance of input from the community, and encouraged all Peekskill residents to reach out in the coming weeks as they form their final proposals.
“To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to raise a community,” said Joseph Teel. “And it’s going to take the whole community to make this project successful.”
Task Force email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian Larson lives in Peekskill, having recently moved from Brooklyn, where he worked for NY1 News. He is a writer, podcaster, and event planner. Visit him > capngoodtimes.com.