To the Editor –
After reading The Independent’s coverage of the Police Reform Town Hall in Tarrytown (“Tarrytown Police Reform Process Continues,” by James Carsey, 1/31/21), I have to wonder whether the reporter and I actually attended the same meeting last Tuesday. The article is an inaccurate and misleading account – particularly regarding the residents who spoke out at the meeting.
As a member of the village’s Police Reform and Reinvention Committee and a smaller subcommittee that helped draft the five “practical measures” that the reporter mentions, I was one of those residents who spoke. But I was shocked to read the reporter’s account that 24 members of the community spoke at the meeting, that the “vast majority” of those who spoke did not see the benefit of Governor Cuomo’s police reform mandate, and that “only six of the 24 comments expressed at the public forum were in favor of police reform in Tarrytown.”
All of those statements are simply incorrect. Upon reviewing the video of the meeting several times, I counted a total of 20 residents who spoke – not 24. One resident did call in multiple times due to a poor Internet and phone connection, and two residents who expressed opposition to police reform had a chance to speak twice.
Moreover, out of the 20 residents who spoke, 14 out of the 20 (or 70 percent of the speakers) spoke out in favor of police reform. Only five residents (25 percent) expressed opposition to police reform in the village generally, and more specifically the initiatives and recommendations drafted by the committee.
In contrast to what the reporter wrote in the article, the comments at the meeting were not indicative of broad community opposition to police reform – but very much the opposite. The statements, in fact, were reflective of broad support in the community for sensible and positive police reform initiatives that would improve the lives and work conditions of our officers, as well as the relationship between the police department and ALL members of our diverse community. These initiatives include improved training for our officers, the establishment of an independent civilian board to review serious complaints, an on-call Community Responder mental health professional who could respond to mental health and substance abuse calls instead of an armed officer, and improved mental health services and wellness initiatives for all of our police personnel. We also hope that the village establishes a permanent police advisory committee to continue offering listening sessions with members of the community to ensure that all voices are heard, and that the relationship between officers and residents always remains positive and productive.
Our goal as volunteers who spent several months researching and drafting these recommendations is to make our good local police department into an exceptional one – and allow the Tarrytown Police Department to serve as an exemplary model in the county, region and across the country for cutting-edge practices and initiatives in community relations. We believe that these are goals that are shared by Chief John Barbelet. We want to ensure that every local resident – regardless of racial or ethnic background and where they may happen to live in the village – feels comfortable, safe and protected around our police officers. We want to create mechanisms that preserve and protect the trust that many residents already have in our police officers for years to come, and prevent tragic events like the ones we have seen elsewhere in the region and in the country that have severely damaged that trust between police officers and Black and Brown communities.
For these reasons and many more, I hope that The Independent will publish a correction to the misleading statements in the article. I would be happy to personally review the video of the Town Hall meeting at any time with the editor or reporter if it would help lead to the record being corrected.
After conducting our own review of the entire video of the January 26 open forum on police reform and reinvention, we recognize that our story did not accurately summarize the views expressed by the 20 residents who called in via Zoom. While we may differ from Mr. Cesarano in concluding which opinions should be labeled “in favor of police reform” as opposed to those against the draft report’s recommendations, we acknowledge that those who spoke in support of at least one of the recommendations clearly outnumbered those who expressed a generally negative view of the process. We apologize for that misrepresentation.
Nonetheless, it is notable, in our view, that four of those speaking in support of the reform proposals were themselves members of the committee that produced the report. It would be surprising if it had been otherwise.
A second open forum at which public opinion is welcome is scheduled for Tuesday, February 9. We believe that all the parties involved in this process would benefit from hearing more voices from more elements of Tarrytown’s diverse community. That would benefit both the Board of Trustees and the Police Department as they consider the next steps in this important process. The Hudson Independent will do our best to cover that and subsequent meetings as objectively as possible.