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Listen to community, not company for police reform ideas

I want to commend the Saranac Lake village board for tabling the allocation of $11,000 to Lexipol, a corporation that promises to provide law enforcement departments “with a ‘policy that is always up to date’ containing ‘legally defensible content’ that will ‘protect your agency today'” (Eagly and Schwartz, 2018). Note that this promise says nothing about protecting the community or individual citizens.

Lexipol is one of many corporations that operate under the radar to perpetuate the problems of systemic racism and mistreatment of community members that are at the heart of the current crisis. They represent the corporatization of public life, masquerading as champions of reform and offering a magic bullet of prewritten code to reduce the burden on communities, but in reality their only goal is to “insulate police and sheriff’s departments from liability” (Eagly and Schwartz, 2018). Unfortunately, we have seen over and over how lack of liability leads to officers escaping accountability and legal repercussions for poor and even illegal misconduct.

We in New York have been given an amazing opportunity with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to reshape police departments by April. Eagly and Schwartz write in the Texas Law Review that “Contemporary commentators have also emphasized — perhaps even more forcefully than their predecessors — that any administrative police rulemaking process should directly engage community members and that policies should be tailored to the particular circumstances and interests of the community. Advocates for these more democratic processes contend that they can lead to more effective policies and enhance the perceived legitimacy of policing.”

In the process of creating new police policy, a more important factor than Lexipol’s dubious credentials and motives is that using them would cut out the most important voices in the rich conversation about the place and form of policing that is best for communities — those of community members ourselves. Not only do we NOT need to spend $11,000 to hire “experts” to do this work, but we would be paying for a final product inferior to one we can create that would suit our community — though admittedly with more work involved. But if we do the work, we will reap the benefits. We have a community filled with a diverse range of knowledge and skill that can be harnessed if the task of reforming the Saranac Lake Police Department is approached in an open, transparent way.

I believe the process should begin with at least one completely open forum, wherein local residents are invited to share their concerns and ideas for change (as well as their praise for what the department is already doing well — because we should not forget that we already live in a community that cares about its citizens). After this forum, It is my hope that the discussion could lead to a working group composed of a representative sample of the voices heard and important constituency groups, who will then draft a plan to bring back to the board and to the community. My concern is that even if the board wisely rejects the use of Lexipol, there will still be the old New York tradition of a “three men in a smoke-filled room” approach to the task of police reform. It is POSSIBLE that a process like that could create some good change; however, there are probably ideas in the community that could solve many current and future problems that will never be heard if the board takes an exclusionary path.

I don’t live in the village, but my entire life revolves around it. I work here, shop here, eat here, and my daughter goes to school and works here as well. I understand that my voice probably won’t make the cut for that final table — the working group that creates the plan. However, I feel I have the right to put ideas out at an open meeting, and the right to know that the plan developed will be by citizens who care about our community, including village officials and police department personnel, not by some corporation that wouldn’t know Saranac Lake from any other small town.

Shir Filler lives in Vermontville.

Reference:

Eagly, I., and Schwartz, J. (2018, April 18). “Lexipol.” Texas Law Review. https://texaslawreview.org/lexipol

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