Today, January 25, will be eight years to the day of the unfortunate death of our brother Detective Christopher Ridley. The tragedy that met Detective Ridley and the circumstances that surrounded his investigation is a constant reminder of the negative perceptions and biased institutional policies embedded in the law enforcement structure.
The law enforcement community in Westchester has never been the same after this unpredictable tragedy. With careful examination and critical analysis, we will see that the system of policing has flaws.
The glitch in the system only shows when a tragedy such as Detective Ridley, Police Brutality or Police Misconduct occurs. As responsible citizens, leaders, and communities, it is our duty to find and correct these flaws in the system that is made to protect and serve the people. In a real democracy, there is a system of checks and balances; and there should always be an opportunity for dialogue and change.
To pass blame or the use of the usual media spin does not help all the families involved and in reality, doesn’t solve the problem; at the end of the day its politics as usual and the decimation of a memory of an officer that should be considered a hero.
Black Law Enforcement Professionals are now extra cautious when they react to situations when they are working as plain clothes officers. Some have decided not to respond at all when off duty in fear they will fall into the same situation as our brother Detective Ridley. The history of these types of tragedies in New York State since 1940 has always been black officers shot, shot at, or killed by their white counterparts and never in reverse.
It’s unfortunate that the only time we are recognized as law enforcement is when we don the blue uniform. Incidents like Detective Ridley didn’t stop after him. There was NYPD Police Chief Ziegler, the highest ranking black official in the NYPD, had guns drawn on him by police while he was sitting in an unmarked police SUV with NYPD credentials around his neck. NYPD Sergeant Kenny Kessiedu, who was assaulted on his way to work by Yonkers uniform police officers and a year later found not guilty of any charges brought by the District Attorney’s office. These incidences remind Black Law Enforcement of the challenges we face as citizens of color and for Black Law Enforcement officers.
On May 9, 2008, Westchester County Public Safety issued recommendations in a Review of the Use of Force Training at WCPA. Out of the 17 recommendations on Use of Force Training and Police on Police confrontations it is still not clear what recommendations the WCPA are actually following.
In 2010, the New York State Police on Police Task Force issued more recommendations. The key finding in this report was that racial bias, conscious or unconscious plays a role in an officer’s decision to shoot or don’t shoot a subject.
What classes does the WCPA offer its cadets or suggested yearly refresher courses to local Police Departments in “Racial Awareness” so trained officers can avoid stereotyping by dress or other features of personal appearance, especially among young people of color?
Unfortunately, the structure of the 43 municipalities makes it an uphill task for recommendations and real policy and procedural change. Without proper local or state governmental oversight to enforce these recommendations, law enforcement professionals will not be properly trained to the highest possible standards of the nation. This is a disservice to the families of the officers and the relatives of the community we claim to protect and serve.
The county has come into a state of independent oversight and accountability. There is a cry for oversight and accountability for big businesses such as Wall Street, the mortgage industry, and even the automotive industry. If our voices, when united, can be heard to effect change and demand accountability from our government leaders, then where are the voices of outrage when there is no true oversight of our local law enforcement departments to protect and serve our families adequately?
In the age of 21 Century Policing, every municipality should have a Civilian Complaint Review Board of its police department. This is the only way to ensure Integrity, Accountability and Transparency of a city’s police department to the community they claim to serve.
Despite having a reputation for being one of the most “progressive” and wealthiest county and country, Westchester and the United States lack an adequate oversight in law enforcement. We need to take a page from the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan– all who have credible Independent Civilian Complaint Review Boards.
The 2008 report also recommended that a Westchester County Training Advisory Committee should be created outside of the Westchester Chiefs Association panel. This committee should be made up of the WCPA Director of Training and representatives of the community ( community leaders, clergy, educators). Westchester County has still failed to follow these recommendations.
The failure of municipalities and the county to create a civilian based external, objective, third-party review is a failure of one of the major policies that can build trust between the community and law enforcement; and it is the only way to ensure that our police departments are efficient and that they will protect and serve our communities.
No matter what the public opinion is on the Detective Ridley incident, no matter what sides people have taken over the years, there is only one side we should all be on; the side of better training, updated equipment, racial equity in the ranks and upper-level management, ending racial bias and better community relations.
We should never again allow another family to suffer as the Ridley family has when their son lost his life trying to save a life and do the job he had sworn to do.