In a recent Mount Vernon City Council Work Session Meeting, Damon K. Jones (Blacks In Law Enforcement of America) and Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., (Westchester Coalition For Police Reform) addressed the Council on both the importance and the need for a Civilian Complaint Review Board in Mount Vernon and all of Westchester County for that matter.
There has been a national cry for an independent body tasked with investigating complaints about alleged misconduct and criminality on the part of the police. It is important we think globally, but it’s equally as important that we act locally. With cases of Blacks Lives Lost at the hands of the police filling the headlines nationally like Eric Garner (Staten Island), Akai Gurley (Brooklyn), Freddie Gray (Baltimore), Mike Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Tamir Rice (Cleveland) as well as so many others. We don’t have to look nationally. While it does not often make the mainstream national news, we have enough police misconduct and criminality going on right here in our own backyard.
Cases like Kenneth Chamberlain Sr (White Plains), Danroy ‘DJ’ Henry (Pleasantville), Mount Vernon Police Officer Christopher Ridley (White Plains), Dario Tena (Yonkers), Felix Kumi (Mount Vernon) and Miguel Espinal (Yonkers) are just a few examples of persons of color killed by the police and Raynette Turner (Mount Vernon) who died in police custody.
Cases of police criminality like Irma Marquez who Yonkers police used a take-down tactic on, that knocked her unconscious and put her in the hospital for four days, Mr. Kenneth Kissiedu, a NYPD Police Sergeant who was assaulted (Yonkers), White Plains Police Officer Michael Hannon assaulted by supervising officer while on duty, a 15-year-old boy being hit in head, splitting his ear while he lay on the ground in hand cuffs and the assault on an emotionally disturbed man and Anthony Smith, both by Mount Vernon Sergeant Michael Marcucuilli, who cost the tax payers close to a million dollars in lawsuits. That’s just an example, basically you can see the need for accountability of our law enforcement in Westchester. Time to bring culpability of our law enforcement departments to renew trust in our communities.
Not saying that all or even most law enforcement officers violate the polices and procedures (most officers do their job and do it right), but for the ones who do, we need culpability.
One of the reason for the national cry from CCRB is it’s hard for a DA’s office who has a relationship with the police department or the police department investigating itself. With the exception of the Akai Gurley case, very few officers get indicted, even when caught on video tape as with the Garner case or recorded by an independent entity like the Medical Alert people in the Kenneth Chamberlain case. What encouragement is there for the general public to make complaints and report officers for wrongdoing if they never see any justice dispensed.
Jones and Chamberlain addressed the Mount Vernon City Council because out of the 43 municipalities in Westchester County, Mount Vernon is the only one to have some form of a CCRB in its charter. Under Chapter 14 The Mount Vernon City Council approved a Civilian Advisory Board For Police Affairs on July 15, 1982, but had yet to put it into action. While other municipalities are fighting to get a CCRB added to their city’s charter, Mt. Vernon has had an early version of it in its charter for going on 34 years and does not utilize it.
Now the Chapter 14 adoption of the Civilian Advisory Board For police Affairs states that members are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor of Mount Vernon, that in itself is troubling. Before critics see this as an attack on Richard Thomas, the current mayor as usual, this is troubling no matter who is in office. Look at it like this, the police Commissioner serves at the pleasure of the mayor. So if officers under his watch get out of line, how can a board who also serves at the pleasure of the mayor truly investigate any wrongdoing, when as written, when he or she can be terminated by the mayor, if he uncovers wrongdoing.
Also where this board falls short is in Section 14-10 Meetings part B, where it states; Board meetings, in addition to those regularly scheduled, may be called by the Chairperson or upon the request of the Mayor or the Police Commissioner. If a Police Commissioner has the power to request a meeting at anytime with the board that is investigating him or his department, how can they be truly independent.
Now this is not to beat up on the City of Mount Vernon, but to state that Mount Vernon has the opportunity to be the model for the entire county as far as having a CCRB is concerned. MV has an opportunity to continue to pave the way and be a leader in better police-community relations. MV already is ahead of the rest of the county by merely having a version of a CCRB in its charter. Now it has the opportunity to take it the rest of the way and write the blueprint for the county.
A truly independent CCRB, appointed by the City Council instead of the Mayor who appoints the Police Commissioner that has subpoena power and can truly investigate all complaints by the community, no matter where it leads in the police department. Now Mount Vernon has a new Police Commissioner Robert ‘Bob’ Kelly who says he is in favor of a truly independent CCRB with subpoena power. While he is saying all the right things, many have a wait and see attitude because they heard great talk from many of Kelly’s predecessors and seen very little results. We also have an upcoming election this year in the county, the Westchester District Attorney. I implore all to pay attention to this race, because family members who lost loved ones at the hands of the police have not found justice from the former DA.