Cuba Cultural Center’s Response to NYS Police Reform
Need for Reform
It is difficult to get on social media, news website, or news station without hearing about police violence against communities they are meant to protect. This violence is not new, however changes in media make instances of violence visceral and close to home for everyone, and especially communities of color or low socioeconomic status or the intersection of the two. It is not a question of whether state sanctioned violence is occurring, it is the question about what we are doing to address it
The Cuba Cultural Center is an organization dedicated to social justice. Though our focus is on food security and eradicating the causes of poverty, this is intertwined with other forms of injustice including injustice perpetuated by the criminal justice system. As an organization, we are making it abundantly clear that we stand with the victims of police intimidation, brutality, and use of force. We seek reform to the current system and urge readers to join us in calling for broad, systemic change.
New York State Mandate
In the wake of public outcry, New York State mandated that each individual police department within the state participate in police reform or risk losing their state funding. Frankly, this action was long overdue and did not have the legislative teeth to enact real change. At its best, it has forced departments to accept feedback and recommendations from its constituents. At worst, it has given departments the ability to say – yes, we hear you; we ‘changed’ – without means to measure this change.
As an organization advocating social justice in all its forms, the Cuba Cultural Center participated in the discussion provided by the local and county departments. The following documents our actions during the open to the public sections of the NYS mandated process. As such, we describe our response but have no way of knowing or measuring the impact it may or may not have had.
Cuba Police Department
The state mandate was released in early summer 2020 and the Cuba Police Department started working on the steps outlined in the mandate in late summer, early fall 2020.
As we were coping with the pandemic, the police department held public, socially distanced meetings in person to allow and encourage participation by individuals who may not have access to a computer or internet. The Center administration participated two meetings. In particular, the Executive Director provided recommendation to increase transparency by posting demographics of arrests and departmental policy/procedure in a public place, like on their website. Additionally, she recommended a number of locally provided trainings that would teach officers to have increased sensitivity to the needs of the individuals they interact with including more trauma informed practices
Allegany County Sheriff’s Department
Unlike the Cuba Police Department, the Allegany County Sheriff’s Department did not start the process of soliciting community input until late January 2021 with the deadline for community responses set for March 17. They had a subsite on the County website with information about the reform mandate. All meetings were conducted on a virtual platform, no option for non-virtual involvement other than letter writing. The information about the reform work was not as widely distributed as it could have been, in our opinion.
The Center participated with the public meeting on February 18. Both participants raised questions and made comments. Comments included posting arrest demographics by age, gender, and ethnicity publicly, making definitions of use of force terms known so the general public would know what was being discussed, and adding trauma informed care as required training.
In addition to participating in the public discussion, the Center submitted a written request for reform. The entire document is available at the link or as an addendum to the reform document submitted by the County. Here is a brief overview of the letter:
- Transparency about the use and arrest records of the Sheriff Department’s Tactical Team including their use of force and no-knock warrant procedure.
- Transparency about the Corrections Emergency Response Team including demographics about “shakedowns” of inmates within the jail.
- Transparency about the Narcotics Unit including demographics of cases and arrests.
- Recommendation to switch any language of non-lethal action to ‘less-lethal’ on their Use of Control Continuum.
- Implement/collaborate with the County to create a mental health/substance abuse intervention team so these sorts of crises do not escalate to a level where police should use force.
- Questioning whether they followed the requirement to have “community members from areas of high police interaction” on the reform committee while pointing out that majority of the reform committee consists of county employees.
- Questioning why the department’s arrest records are absent.
- Questioning diversity in hiring women and minorities in all parts of the department.
- Questioned review of policies on a regular basis and who is involved in reviews.
- Questioned their dismissal of restorative justice practices.
Additionally, the Allegany County Sheriff’s Department managed the Allegany County Prison and the Cuba Cultural Center wanted to encourage reform to this institution as it is directly under their control. To that end we addressed the following:
- The abysmally low hourly wage for inmates - $0.125 per hour.
- Transparency about the racial/gender data of those incarcerated and the policies that might disproportionately impact them.
The letter was concluded by urging the department to do the right thing, “Now is the time to be on the correct side of history, now is the time to embrace reform fully and to invite the entire DIVERSE county to have a voice in this process. Now is the time to replace heavy handed, force-dependent policing practices with appropriate yet compassionate and empathetic responses. Now is the time to bring transparency to police practices. Now is the time to demilitarize police forces.”
Why is the Center telling you this? Why have you read to the end rather than moving on to another article or video or meme? I know both questions have the same answer – we realize something is wrong with the police institution as a whole and we feel compelled to do something about it locally. I want to encourage you to take whatever action you believe is right for you.
- Recognize our place of privilege and bias we bring to each situation. Its ok to feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is good. Leaning into the uncomfortable means growth.
- Normalize the discussion of police reform in your social circles. Don’t shy away from what seem like awkward conversations. Embrace them.
- Share social media affirming the need to change police practices and end police violence.
- Get creative! Do whatever you do best to draw attention to this need for reform.
- Send letter and emails to your local officials. Call them or visit them in person. Tell them what you want. Borrow lines from our letter or craft your own. Be assertive for increased transparency.
- Vote in local elections, they do make a difference. Choose candidates who believe in police transparency, equitable policing practices, and decreasing police violence.
- Get your friends, family, and others in your social circles to do this with you.
State level and higher
- Attend events advocating change. Physically stand with those calling for change.
- Tell our State and Federal representatives what you want. Letters, emails, phone calls, office visits. Reach out in a variety of ways, make your voice heard.
- Vote for candidates who affirm police reform.
Let this start with me. I acknowledge my place of privilege as a white, cis gender female, heterosexual, neurotypical, fluent writer and reader of the dominant language and dialect. At times I feel overwhelmed by the horrific things I see and hear on social media and the news. But I am starting by writing this blog post and adding my quiet but strong voice to the conversation about police reform.
Our participation in the local review process and sharing our views on reform in this blog post are ways in which the Center can stand for those for whom policing is especially harmful and oppressive.
- Cuba Police Department Website with Reform Documentation on the right side of the screen (https://www.cubany.org/police-department.html)
- Allegany County Sheriff's Department Reform Website (https://www.alleganyco.com/departments/county-administrator/committee-on-police-reform/)