Following up on a series of webinars held last year, the College-Community Partnership for Racial Justice hosted a discussion on Oct. 28 aimed at assessing the progress of local police reform measures.
The earlier webinar series, which featured local experts and community leaders and focused on issues such as racial equity, criminal justice, and the prison industrial complex, was initiated last year in response to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order mandating reforms for all New York law enforcement agencies. 

Last Thursday’s event was moderated by community leader Patrick Johnson and included presentations from Ray Philo of Utica College, Ronni Tichenor of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and Gbemende Johnson, Anokhi Manchanda ’22, and Cole Kuczek ’23 of Hamilton.

Philo, a professor of criminal justice, opened the webinar by urging further action regarding measures drafted in recent months. “The state of New York, I believe, has an obligation to pursue the plans in some way and to acknowledge the effort that many communities put into them,” he said. “We’re hoping that Governor Hochul picks up the ball and runs with it on this.”

Diving into the reforms themselves, Manchanda shared the content of her summer Levitt Center research, explaining the metric employed to unpack and evaluate various components of the plans. Professor of Government Johnson went into greater detail on the average scores for both smaller (e.g., Boonville, Vernon) and larger (e.g., Oneida County Sheriff, Utica) law enforcement jurisdictions within certain reform categories. Examples of these include “Community Engagement” and “Use of Force,” which tended to be more thoroughly addressed in local plans, as well as “Citizen Oversight” and “Recruiting, Retaining, and Advancing Diverse Police Officers,” which tended to score lower. 

Kuczek linked the emphasis on citizen oversight to discussions surrounding human rights commissions, whose potential establishment constituted the focus of his research with the Levitt Center last summer. These independent citizen review boards may lean toward either dealing with discrimination complaints or offering outreach and education programs, with the particular nature of the commissions varying based on the needs of their communities. 

Tichenor, a professor of sociology, returned to the question of “now what?” with which Philo began the evening, echoing the idea that funding from the state legislature would be needed to realize many of the concrete plans designed over the past year. She also encouraged attendees to contact their assemblyperson and local municipality to voice support for these reforms, saying that “making sure it’s part of the conversation is a role we can all play.”

Both Manchanda and Kuczek will be continuing their work with the Levitt Center. Reflecting on the town hall and the project thus far, Manchanda said, “It was nice to see how the [research] turned out … it has been really fulfilling and feels like we’re doing something for the community.”

Closing out the webinar, Johnson lauded the work done thus far and encouraged its continuation. “Engaging in deep, honest dialogue is key in terms of how we move forward, toward everyone feeling respected in safe communities,” she said.

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