By Casey Carpenter
On Thursday evening (10/1), the Newark Village Board, in conjunction with representatives of local law enforcement, PA/DA, and mental health professionals, held a Police Reform & Reinvention Forum.
Mayor Jonathan Taylor began the night with an outline of the process that the village intends to follow in order to address important issues in policing.
He described “a truly collaborative effort” beginning with two public forums and the formation of a committee that will work through the winter to draft a reform plan. This plan will be open to Public Comment during January and February. Revisions will be made as necessary, then presented to the Village Board for adoption, finally being submitted to New York State for approval.
Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts made a statement where he cited a series of writings that he has made since August with a goal to educate the public on policing policies. He stated that it is important to “deal with realities” in Wayne County, not perception.
Wayne County District Attorney Mike Calarco stated that he is fully on board to gain positive results from the process. He also stated that it is important to keep in mind “how we react to things.”
Wayne County Public Defender Andy Correia cautioned people to think that problems occur other places. “We have a problem here,” he stated. He noted that the population his office serves are “disproportionately black and brown.” He went on to cite data from Wayne County convictions and sentences for 2018, which indicated starkly higher percentages of prison sentences for felony convictions of black citizens (17.6%) then white citizens (9.9%). He went on to briefly cite other data which showed disparity across many outcomes, noting this information is public record.
Newark Police Chief Thoms then made a presentation on the process from the perspective of the police. He noted that the Newark Village Police Department has the intention to use “community-oriented policing. . . that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities.” The forum was then opened up for public input, both in-person and virtually. Comments and questions spanned the continuum of this complicated issue:
- Addressing youth issues appropriately
- Police building relationships with communities of color
- Officer wellness programs
- Thorough data collection of all police interactions
Wayne County Director of Mental Health James Haitz spoke to the services that are available in the county to address needs of substance use disorders and mental health concerns. He noted the coordination of his department with the Newark Police Department, including the usage of technology to provide real-time assistance during behavioral health emergencies where police are the first on scene.
Another series of public input was opened where additional issues were raised, including:
- Data collection of behavioral health interventions with police
- Barriers to hiring black police officers
- Anti-racism training for members of the committee
- Personal experience of being a black woman in Wayne County
An additional session of Police Reform and Reinvention for the Village of Newark will be held on Saturday October 3rd at 4:00 at the BOCES Conference Center or available virtually.