CHATHAM — The village of Chatham is finalizing its police reform plan.
After several months of meetings, the village of Chatham Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative is ready to submit its plan to village trustees for approval.
“I think it was a very positive experience for the village and for the police department,” said Deputy Mayor and Trustee Pete Minahan, who also serves as police commissioner and Collaborative member. “I said this in the meetings that I never realized that we should have been doing this before. We should have been asking the village periodically, how are you? How is our police department doing? And how can we do better?”
Minahan said the Collaborative started its process by looking at racism and what the village needs and wants in its police department.
The Collaborative consists of 10 members: Six village resident volunteers, two village trustees and two village police officers.
The collaborative also looked at a variety of focus groups to find out what different groups of people in the village wanted and how they saw the police department. Separate focus groups consisted of senior citizens, youths, people of color, people dealing with addiction, merchants and commercial businesses.
Minahan said one member of the Collaborative suggested developing a survey to ask residents about their thoughts.
“We kept the survey simple and at the end we put all the information together as far as how people saw the police department, if they had had positive or negative interactions, what police department programs are you aware of,” said Minahan. “Slowly I think we kind of moved towards the idea of what does the village want in the police department. Most of the answers were along the lines of we want to see them more, we want to know them.”
The Collaborative’s draft report on its findings and recommendations is available on the village website. It includes 58 pages of information, reform recommendations, public comments, suggestions, ideas and information about police policies, and more. The report also includes responses and comments from the survey.
“We looked at the complaints and we don’t really have any complaints in the files of the police department that would be concerning to the village,” said Minahan. “The complaints were more minor — maybe somebody had a late report, maybe somebody didn’t wash the car when they were supposed to or something like that. So they really didn’t pertain to anything as far as police reform. So that was a very good thing that we didn’t have any issues that would pertain to the mandate.”
The Collaborative’s plan also looks at a number of items such as use of force, search warrants, hate groups, mental health, substance use and affected groups, community, training, social justice, community relations and accountability and breaks down what each means, how the police department implements that item and a time line of when that item or issue is or can be completed.
Minahan said the Collaborative decided the police department will also keep more detailed information about police encounters and traffic stops. He said information will be compiled into yearly reports.
The village plans for the Collaborative to continue to meet periodically because it is a living document that will continue to grow and change over time with the village, Minahan said.
“The mayor said early on he doesn’t want anyone to think that this is just a one-time thing, that we’re going to send this along to the governor and then we’re not going to do anything with it,” Minahan said. “This is a working document that we’re going to readdress periodically.”
Mayor John Howe said the Collaborative’s plan is expected to be brought before the board of trustees for a vote at the next meeting March 8.
“We may very well resolve to accept the committee’s report and move it to the state for review,” Howe said. “We have an April 1 deadline we have to meet and I believe we’ll be ahead of that date if we resolve to send it on the eighth. Shortly thereafter it will go to the state for review.”
Last June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order requiring all localities to adopt a police reform and reinvention plan by April 1, or face the loss of future funding.
Minahan said he fully expects the plan to be approved by the village board at the upcoming meeting.