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New Rochelle Police Department’s Complaint Suppression And The Need For Civilian Oversight

By Dr. Norrell Edwards, Communications Director of Next Step Forward Initiative

A little over two weeks ago, on February 15th, a White off-duty New Rochelle PD officer punched a Black man in the face. Eight months prior to that incident, on June 5th, NRPD officer Alex McKenna shot and killed Kamal Flowers, a young Black man, after Flowers fled a traffic stop. Six years ago, an NRPD officer pulled a gun on 2 kids of color who were having a snowball fight—you can still find the footage for yourself on Youtube. Imagine, these are just the most severe stories that made headlines—the tip of the iceberg. New Rochelle residents, particularly Black residents living in subsidized housing areas like the Lincoln corridor, City Park and Heritage Homes have experienced decades of disrespect, unwarranted searches of their bodies and homes, racially profiled stops, harassment and more from the New Rochelle Police Department. This history has everything to do with anti-Blackness, personal and racial bias, and a struggle over power.

We are often reminded that the New Rochelle Police Department is an award-winning police department that has received accolades for its “best practices in community policing, use-of-force, crisis intervention and de-escalation.” The New Rochelle Police force can simultaneously be award winning and also incredibly biased, prejudiced and predatory against Black and Brown community members. The continued refusal of police leadership across the country and in our own New Rochelle, to acknowledge biased policing, is reflective of an abusive tactic—gaslighting.

Ava Duvernay’s now infamous and culture-shifting When They See Us, a mini-series about the Central Park 5, exposes how gaslighting has been used as an interrogation tactic to coerce confessions. Gaslighting does not only apply to interrogation; “gaslighting is a series of manipulation tactics to make you question reality.” When it comes to misconduct, bias and complaints in New Rochelle—we are being gaslit.

In an open letter to the Mayor, New Rochelle PBA President claims “you would think that if racial bias truly existed as described in your plan, it would be reported and complained about at an alarming rate. Yet, complaints of racism, bias or other wrongdoing against New Rochelle Police Officers are effectively non-existent.” They are non-existent because it is near-impossible to file any kind of complaint.

At a recent community hearing about police reform on February 9th, community members spoke about being dissuaded and talked out of filing complaints when they went to the police station. Someone else spoke of a rumor that complaints were simply thrown out. Many more are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution or harassment. There are no complaints because there is a culture of suppression and fear. How is anyone supposed to complain if you won’t let them? This is gaslighting.

At a recent meeting between police and community members, one detective spoke about driving around himself to collect complaints. Again, given the well understood culture of complaint suppression, why would anyone opt to file a complaint that way?

This is why Next Step Forward Initiative has been speaking with community members and collecting stories about police encounters. The complaints exist, but they have nowhere to go. Ultimately, if New Rochelle does not address the root problem of this injustice—nothing will change.

Many community members value the idea of policing—they want to be protected like their typically White or well-off peers in the North end. They want to be treated with kindness, decency, respect and given the benefit of the doubt, as White community members are given. Bias related to race, socioeconomic status, and criminal background prevents this from happening. Police MUST treat everyone respectfully, no matter the scenario—whether that person committed crimes past or present, mouthed off at them or whatever the case. Teachers, physicians and other civil servants and care givers deal with difficult charges all of the time, but that gives them no right to abuse, talk to down to, use unnecessary force or treat those individuals in any kind of fashion. That is an abuse of power.

Next Step Forward and other community members feel that anti-racism and bias training is not enough to fix these issues. In order to engender a culture of real transparency and accountability, a civilian oversight structure is needed. New York City, Buffalo, Albany Rochester, Syracuse, Ossining, Ithaca, Clarkstown and other cities within New York state all have a citizen oversight structure for police. New Rochelle is the only bigger sized city in the state that does not have one whatsoever. A civilian complaint review board with real investigation and sub-poena power is long overdue in New Rochelle. City leadership is resistant to the idea for fear that it will be “adversarial.” Yet, that is already the case. Overpoliced community members suffer abuse or mistreatment from the NRPD with little avenue for recourse or acknowledgement. It is time that government and the police department cede some power to the people, giving them the tools to truly hold them accountable. If you’re a New Rochelle resident please write to your council member about a CCRB and show up to the March 9th hearing to speak about the need for a CCRB. Register to speak here.

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Black Westchester - News With The Black Point Of View is an online news magazine for people of color for Westchester and the Tri- State area of New York at every economic level. Our mission is to promote the concept of “community” through media.
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