By Jay Mullen
As per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order for police reform and reinvention, the Whitehall Village Board discussed forming a committee to move forward with the process on Sept. 15.
The executive order states that by April 1, 2021 every municipality in the state that has a police department has to go through a police reform process. Mayor Phil Smith likened the process to a comprehensive plan.
If there is no policy in place by April 1, 2021, then Whitehall will not receive any state aid.
Smith was blunt about the position Whitehall has been put in.
“They have put everyone on the hook, and they’ve done it financially,” he said. “If you are dependent on any kind of state aid and you don’t do this, then you’re S.O.L.”
This process will include collaborating with the public to get their feedback on what the police department can do better, what they are already doing well, and what their opinions are of the police.
Smith said that there is no money being provided by the state to carry out this process, and he doesn’t know at this time how they will pay for it.
“It’s not like we can run out and hire ourselves a consultant to facilitate this and go through this process. I don’t know how any of it is going to shake out,” he said.
Police chief Ernest Bassett chimed in and said that hiring a consultant is recommended by the state.
“Even though that’s recommended in our blue book, but there’s no money,” he said.
Smith laid out what they are supposed to have already started, according to the process laid out by the state. This includes gathering information on how the police department currently operates, prior complaint history and policies that are in place, among other things.
This information is supposed to be shared with the community.
This phase of the process is supposed to be completed during August and September. Smith and Bassett informed the board that they did not receive their blue books outlining the process until after last month’s meeting.
“We are already behind the eight ball,” Smith said.
“What are we going to do?” board member Teresa Austin asked.
“We need another committee,” Smith responded.
Smith told the board to expect messages from him about how they are going to proceed with forming the committee. He would want the committee to be made up of board members and members of the community as well.
He also plans to call Washington County to see if any of the five police departments within the county have begun this process yet.
The goal would be to see if they could somehow collaborate moving forward. Smith said that they would have to come up with their own plan but hopes to brainstorm with others.
“Even if there is a template or format, something that we can share to work through would be helpful,” he said.