Editor’s Note: In the wake of the White Plains Police Department promoting former Assistant Chief Anne Fitzsimmons, a 36-year officer with the White Plains Department of Public Safety, to the city’s police chief on Monday, we are re-running this piece by Sandy Bernabei. The Westchester Coalition for Police Reforms’s demands for leaders of color to be considered and the organizations being involved in the selection process to including being given the opportunity to furnish resumes of qualified persons of color, obviously fell of deaf ears as Ms. Fitzsimmons was appointed.
With accusations of Ms. Fitzsimmons brutally & boldly attacking former White Plains Officer Michael Hannon, an African-American, which was witness by two officers, one civilian worker and one supervisor being swept under the rug, and all but dismissed many community leaders have a problem with this appointment. The historical relivance of this appointment making her city’s first female chief can not help but be overshadowed by the ignoring of the community’s cries for more persons of color in leadership positions, while a distrust grows of Mayor Roach after a Breach Of Intentions. So BW is re-running this piece from January 14, 2016, written by the AntiRacism Alliance founder, Sandy Bernabei to revisit the conversation.
On Friday, December 18th, one dozen community leaders and members of the Westchester Coalition for Police Reform met with Mayor Thomas M. Roach, Jr. in his office to discuss concerns about the possibility of Commissioners Chong’s transition to another post leaving his vacancy to fill. Our concern is that he would be replaced by someone from within the system and we wanted the mayor to consider an expanded resume of candidate that included leaders of color. We were calling for new leadership in White Plains that mirrored the multicultural, multiracial composition of the city itself.
The Mayor invited Assistant Police Chief Anne FitzSimmons to attend that meeting with us. She shared one of her accomplishments which validated our request for diversity and demonstrated precisely why we need diversity in leadership. She was able to change the practice and procedure relating to women in domestic violence cases. Her intervention changed things so that women no longer needed to press charges against their partners in order for corrective and legal action to take place. Her experience as a woman enabled her to identify an area of injustice unseen by her male counterparts and her position of authority gave her the access to implement the change on behalf of women.
We communicated clearly that we wanted leadership change. We wanted candidates from outside the White Plains promotional systems to be considered. The pattern of promoting from within has maintained a particular culture within the police department that many residents did not trust and did not feel treated them fairly.
It is time for change. The Mayor found it difficult to believe that many White Plains residents were not happy with the WPPD. We spoke on their on their behalf as well as our own.
Should Commissioner Chong of the White Plains Police Department leave his post, we wanted to be sure that we would have an opportunity to submit resumes of qualified leaders to consider. Mayor Roach reassured us that he knew nothing about the Commissioner of Public Safety resigning from his position. He made no mention about changes within the rank and file of the WP Police Department to my recollection. He gave us his word if there was a change to be made we would be notified and resumes would be accepted and considered. The Mayor told us that his only authority was with appoint the Commissioner of Police. We understood that and also know that while he doesn’t have authority, he still maintains influence.
Our intentions were clear and our request broader than a specific assignment, it included using his influence. The Mayor reflected back to us that he understood our intention that we be given the opportunity to contribute new resumes to consider for any change in top leadership of policing and public safety.
Well, we were not told of these very changes made two weeks later on Friday, January 7th.
On Saturday, January 8, 2016 announced in LOHUD that Police Chief James Bradley served as master of ceremonies at Public Safety Headquarters Friday morning when six new officers were sworn in by Public Safety Commissioner David Chong. Less than an hour later, Bradley also took an oath, when he was sworn in as the city’s new deputy public safety commissioner.
We trusted the mayor to let us know of top police leadership promotions. By not letting us know of this promotion he breached our trust. Political maneuvering (“I had no dominion over that decision”) cannot regain the trust earned by honoring your word and honoring our intentions to bring more diversity into the leadership of policing.
It is time to establish a civilian advisory board to the Police Department and legitimize community input into decisions regarding their own safety.
– Sandra Bernabei, Founding Member, AntiRacist Alliance
Reference: New Deputy Public Safety Commissioner in White Plains by Rich Liebson in the The Journal News (January 8, 2016)
About The Author: Sandra Bernabei, LCSW, NYC Chapter President of the National Association of Social Workers, NYC metro area community organizer, private practitioner with a focus on depression, anxiety and addictions. She has taught social justice at Fordham University, Graduate School of Social Service.
Sandy is a founding member of the Antiracist Alliance. ARA is building a movement to undo structural racism in human services and to bring an analysis of structural racism as outlined by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to social work education and practice.
She has over 30 years experience in the field of addictions and has served as directors of Barnard College/Columbia University, Alcohol & Substance Abuse Prevention Program, the Council on Alcoholism and other Drug Dependence in Rockland County- New York, and the Chemical Dependency Training Institute for Addiction Specialist.