A survey asking residents and workers in the village of Middleport the towns of Royalton and Hartland to rate Middleport Police Department, and share their views on how it could serve their community better, has been tallied by the village's Police Reform Committee.
The survey was distributed through local government offices, as well as online at the Royalton-Hartland school district’s website, in early December and completed surveys were due back on Dec. 30. According to Police Chief John Swick, near the due date, 97 surveys had been returned.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last year mandated that police departments across the state submit individual plans for police reform by April 1, 2021, and linked the creation of the plan directly with state aid for each department.
While Middleport Police Department is not funded by the state, Swick said, small departments like his are still ordered to submit a plan. A local committee was convened in November and created the survey.
According to the results, a few areas were defined most important to citizens including training for officers and police officer wellness. Respondents also indicated they wanted to "keep what they had" with MPD currently, Mayor Dick Westcott said.
“Training was a big issue,” he said, along with “Maintain what we have, enhance the training and technology, be as diverse as we have been in the past and moving forward, and also protect the mental health issues and the wellness of the members of the police department.”
According to Westcott, 5% of the respondents were critical of the amount of diversity in MPD. He says that while hiring racially diverse officers is easy, keeping young officers at a part-time job has been a challenge.
“One of the frustrations is that we can’t keep some of the younger officers that we hired. We had seven patrol officers and we had Hispanic and Black people on the force, but they were part-time, and when a position comes up for a full-time and they scored high on the exams, they’re going,” he said.
While the turnover rate is high, the officers that do stay will be trained, Swick said. Before the survey was even distributed, plans for focusing on different parts of an officer's job were being made, including use of force training, deescalation, anti-bias training and correct behavior for mental health calls, he added.
“Due to the circumstances these days, the officers should be more trained in (mental health), understand it,” Westcott said. “When you respond to an incident, if it’s called 'domestic,' that sets off a chain of incidents and demands. … (but) it may be a domestic call for mental illness. … Put that first, start thinking of those scenarios first, and the policing may take a second seat and that’ll work itself out.”
The village board approved $500 funding to allow Swick to purchase several training tutorials tackling those issues. Swick said each video is about two hours and officers would watch one each month as part of their duties.
The tutorials were made by PoliceOne Academy, an online law enforcement training center.
The other crucial resident concern turned up in the survey responses is the mental health of Middleport police officers, which Swick called “two problems.” The first one is the shock at seeing what first responders may witness.
“My officer was the first to the site of the fatalities on Griswold,” Swick said, referring to the late November motor vehicle collision in Royalton in which a mother and toddler lost their lives.
“I made sure that he had a debriefing eight hours later,” he added.
The second problem occurs “where officers see it all the time … where they become desensitized to it,” Swick said.
The survey responses were tallied and shown to the Police Reform Committee. Now the results are being analyzed and a plan prepared for presentation to the village board on Jan. 19, at which Westcott said a “round table open discussion” will be held. A public hearing on the reform plan will be held in February and a final draft of the plan is to be submitted to the state in March.
“The surveys point that we’re going in the right direction,” Westcott said. “They’re pretty positive with where we’re at right now. So, we streamlined some goals and now we’re going to work on three goals that we think we can make. ... I’m confident we’ll get something that the governor will approve of.”