Police reform committee wraps up hearings

Rick Pfeiffer/staffResidents from the City of Niagara Falls had their chance on Wednesday to participate in the third and final public meeting involving a commission that is preparing a report on law enforcement reform in Niagara County. 

In it's third, and final, public input meeting, Niagara County's Law Enforcement Reform Committee heard residents in the Falls issue a call for more diversity in the ranks of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.

It was a call that acting Sheriff Michael Filicetti, who is seeking a full, four-year term in office in the November general election, said he intends to heed.

"We're putting a lot of effort into that and I hope it's going to pay dividends," Filicetti told the committee members and a number of city residents and community leaders.

Tomasina Cook, a criminal justice instructor at Erie County Community College, who has also worked with victim advocates at the sheriff's office and in the Falls Police Department, said she was pleased with minority recruitment efforts but disappointed with the results so far.

"I really like your minority recruitment program with Niagara Falls High School, Niagara County Community College and Niagara University," Cook said. 

But when Filicetti confirmed that the office currently has only four minority corrections officers in the county jail, and none in the road patrol division, Cook said, "That's very concerning to me because it's the same number of (minorities) as when I worked there."

Filicetti said his office's make-up "is not reflective of the community" but expressed confidence in his plans to improve minority recruitment. 

Pastor Timothy Brown, whose Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church hosted the committee meeting, suggested that minority recruitment would be improved if the sheriff's office would drop a requirement for road patrol deputies to have 60 hours of college credit as a condition for employment.

"There is systemic racism with the 60-hour mandate," Brown said. 

He argued that inner city youth frequently lack the financial resources to attend college or their "public education" doesn't prepare them to gain admission to colleges and universities.

"I don't agree with lowering the standards because the cry in the country now is for more training," Filicetti said.

The acting sheriff said that his recruitment program, which begins with students at the high school level, is designed to "bring minority candidates the assistance to get where they need to be." Filicetti also said that if minority candidates felt that the college credit requirement was a "roadblock," opportunities as corrections officers only required a high school diploma or GED.

Brown seemed unpersuaded. The pastor suggested that unless the college credits were all in criminal justice, candidates could receive all the education they needed at the law enforcement academy.

The reform committee will begin its own deliberations on Monday. The group. made up of public officials and citizens from across Niagara County, is charged with completing its work by April 1.

"Getting the community input was a critical part of this process," Filicetti said. "Starting Monday, that's when it all starts to come together." 

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