At Medina police reform hearing, 2 critics of MPD speak out

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 February 2021 at 8:17 am

Medina urged to have more diversity on police force

MEDINA – The Village Board heard from two residents that its proposed police reform plan needs to do more to ensure Medina police officers are respecting everyone and not violating constitutional rights.

Michael O’Keefe, an attorney in Medina, said he sees body camera video from some of his clients that show officers are infringing on peoples’ rights.

He said videos posted on YouTube by local resident Ken Ortiz show some officers violating Ortiz’s rights. O’Keefe said officers broke down the door of Ortiz’s room at midnight about nine months ago and still haven’t repaired it. O’Keefe said breaking down the door on a harassment charge against Ortiz was too much of a reaction from police.

“Things right in front of us are being ignored,” O’Keefe said during a public hearing through Zoom videoconferencing on Monday.

He would like to see citizen review board to help oversee the Police Department. O’Keefe said the complaint process for the public about officers also should include a way for people to share concerns about the police chief. Mayor Mike Sidari said any complaints about the police chief can be addressed to the mayor and Village Board.

Ortiz, who is a frequent critic of the police on social media and through YouTube, said the Police Department needs to more quickly make body camera video available to the public and the police chief should also wear a body camera when interacting with the public. Ortiz said the mayor often isn’t responsive to his requests for information.

Ortiz said he continues to speak out because he said not all residents are being treated fairly by the Police Department.

“We need to have more ethical police officers,” he said during Monday’s hearing which was held through Zoom video conferencing. “There is never an officer who is held to the standard.”

He urged Medina to have a more diverse police force with women and Black officers. Ortiz also said Medina should have a drop box for people to dispose of weapons.

The comments from O’Keefe and Ortiz were made during a public hearing on Monday about a “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan” due the state by April 1.

Medina formed a committee led by local business owner Scott Robinson that has updated and reviewed policies on use of force, mental health, body worn cameras, community relations, civilian personnel complaints, performance evaluations, handling deadly force incidents, use of firearms including taser and less lethal shotgun.

The committee has recommended establishing a Community Policing Board that would include a cross-section of the community and meet regularly. That community policing board would work towards forming better relations between law enforcement and the community.

“These relationships can be beneficial to convey information in both directions,” according to the report from Committee on Police Reform Collaborative. “This Board may also be tasked with aiding in community relations events.”

Some other highlights of the plan include:

• MENTAL HEALTH and PROCEDURAL JUSTICE – The committee in Medina also is recommending increased training for Medina police officers in mental health and procedural justice.

The regular mental health training schedule should seek out opportunities for crisis intervention training and mental health first aid.

Medina has already sent an instructor for certification in “Principled Policing.” That program covers areas such as History of Policing, Communication, Racial Bias, Decision Making, Trust Building and Core Values.

“Regular training in this area may help officers deal with the difficulties of modern-day policing,” the committee report states. “All of these training areas can be reinforced through reality based training, including interactive scenarios involving use of communication skills.”

• COMMUNITY POLICING/RELATIONS: The Committee recommends that the Medina Police Department take efforts to increase community policing and relations. The committee recommended the Medina Village Board put $10,000 in the next budget to assist with these community policing initiatives.

The committee recommended open community meetings hosted by the Medina Police Department. These meetings can be used to relay relevant information, and hear public concerns.

The Medina PD should also do an annual public survey to gather input from local citizens on police activities.

Some other ways to strengthen community interaction with the department could be more officers on foot patrol, bike patrol and community activities. The committee recommended an annual gathering open to the public where police officers can have positive interactions with the community.

Medina might also consider assigning a Community Policing Officer to focus on creating opportunities for positive interactions with the community.

• ACCREDITATION: The Committee recommends that the Medina PD attempt to obtain NYS accreditation status. The NYS Accreditation Program provides outside guidance and oversight to law enforcement to ensure performance in areas such as policies, procedures and training.

• FUNDING: The committee said funding should be increased at the local and state levels for law enforcement and mental health services. The Medina PD could pursue state grant funding for mental health, training and equipment.

The committee also said Medina should fund an investigator position in the Medina PD. “A designated position should result in a higher rate of case closures, which it is assumed will also increase public confidence,” the committee stated in the report.

Medina needs to submit a report to the state by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June approved an executive order requiring all 500 municipal police agencies in the state to have the public involved in studying current police policies, with possible recommendations for changes. Those reports need to be submitted to the state by April 1 or Cuomo said the state will withhold funding from communities that don’t do the report, which needs to include public meetings.

Cuomo, in his executive order, said the communities with police departments need to go over their policies on use of force by police officers, crowd management, community policing, implicit bias awareness training, de-escalation training and practices, restorative justice practices, community-based outreach and citizen complaint procedures. The communities may find no changes are needed, Cuomo said.