Rye Police Review Committee Seeks Public Input
By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich
Soon after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill at a convenience store and choked to death by a white Minneapolis police officer, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 203. It requires all municipalities to undertake a comprehensive review of their police departments and develop improved strategies, policies, and practices.
Over the summer, Rye Mayor Josh Cohn established the City of Rye Police Review Committee and asked Lisa Dominici and Guy Dempsey to serve as co-chairs. On December 3, the Committee held a public listening session, in which “all voices would be welcomed, valued, and respected”, to gather community feedback about the operation and engagement of the Rye PD. Additionally, the Committee encouraged residents and community members to submit comments at any time to PDReview@ryeny.gov.
Mayor Cohn opened the Zoom discussion by providing more details about the executive order and the need for the City to develop a comprehensive and collaborative plan that will be sent to Albany by April 1, 2021.
Lisa Dominici emphasized the importance of public input in developing a reform plan. Her co-chair, Guy Dempsey, added that the Committee’s objective is to create a plan containing a broad range of information and viewpoints before it is presented to the City Council.
Longtime resident Andy Ball was the first to speak at the meeting. “My family has been in Rye for 170 years and been represented in the Police Department since its inception. My cousin is a sergeant. The governor’s executive order operates from a presumption of guilt on the part of police departments. I suggest that the Committee agree on a precise problem definition before it moves forward.”
County Executive George Latimer, another longtime resident, noted that the County is going through the same process. He offered to share data, which might prove useful to the City as the County has a unique and significant presence in Rye, with Playland, Read Sanctuary, the Marshlands Conservancy, and the Jay Heritage Center on County lands.
James Ward, a nine-year resident, hopes the Council and the Committee will use this mandate as a chance to build community.
Carl Friedrich, a father of four, said he and his wife moved to Rye 20 years ago for its sense of community. “We’ve felt safe here from the beginning. I rebuke the governor’s comments. The police need some form of support.”
Natalie Auerbach remarked that there wasn’t a lot of focus on long-term psychology. “Will there be any sensitivity training?” she asked.
In response to a question from Robert Byrne about the makeup of the Committee, the chairs reported that both the Interim Public Safety Commissioner and the head of the PBA are members.
City Councilwoman Pam Tarlow moved the discussion in a different direction. “I live on Midland Avenue and when Playland is open I see kids of color walking on Midland to the park. Are there more stops of kids of color in Rye?” She would like to see the data and also the number of lawsuits brought against the police for racist behavior in the last ten years and whether the City won or lost those lawsuits.
She added, “This review is not intended to be a repudiation of our police, but rather an opportunity for us to examine what we want our police to be. We also need to listen to our officers and find out what they are telling us they need.”
Twenty-three-year-old Nathaniel Dean echoed Tarlow’s comments. “We need to take a deep dive. This is a moment for Rye to come together as a community.”
The meeting concluded with the Committee announcing that residents will receive a postcard in the mail directing them to the City website where information can be found. Go to www.ryeny.gov/services/remote-city-services-new/police-review.
The next public listening session of the Rye Police Review Committee is January 7, 6-8 p.m.