Is it possible to accomplish police reform satisfactory to all stakeholders? Thanks to the leadership of Jay Schneiderman and the Democratic Town Board it appears that, in Southampton, it can be done.
The story of Southampton police reform efforts begins in 2016 when the Southampton Town Board chose Steven Skrynecki to be the new police chief. The process implemented to select Chief Skyrnecki foreshadowed a similar but more robust process when calls for police reform crossed over from punditry to true engagement.
Essentially, Steven Skrynecki was not chosen by a limited group of insiders. He was selected by engaged stakeholders keen to the needs of the entire community. The advisory team that Jay selected to recruit a new Chief consisted of himself and:
Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone, Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera, Town Attorney James Burke, Management Services Administrator Russell Kratoville, Affirmative Action Task Force Chair Minerva Perez and former Suffolk County Police Chief Joe Monteith.
Inclusivity and bipartisanship embedded in the process ensured a police chief search that resulted in a professional hire. This experience provided solid foundation when Governor Cuomo mandated local communities to repair police relations with the community.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order that gave birth to the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. Subsequently, Jay Schneiderman and the Town Board, confident in the reform efforts already undertaken by Chief Skrynecki, appointed the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Committee (CLERC).
The 22 appointees to the committee were recruited from all walks of life and represented every community in Southampton Town, including elected officials, police, attorneys, civil rights leaders, clergy, activists, and minority representation including members of the Shinnecock Nation, African-Americans and Latino communities: (See complete list: 2021-Police-Reform (southamptontownny.gov))
What is enduring about this is that Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has nurtured a system of government that trusts in collaboration and thoughtful dialogue. Unafraid of engaging the full community and appreciative of all points of view, his now trademark approach provides fertile ground for problem solving as it pertains to police matters and other public health concerns, the opioid crisis and Covid-19 crisis being two other matters involving many contributors.
Although the police reform story in Southampton is still unfolding, Lisa Votino, CLERC member and community activist took measure of the seriousness of the commitment: “My organizing work the past several months has taken me to a lot of different jurisdictions and by far the Town of Southampton has been the gold star.”