Newly formed ad hoc committee considering online survey
Lewiston Police required to submit plan by April 1
By Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston ad hoc committee on police reform has begun its series of meetings in the community.
Town Supervisor Steve Broderick, a retired Niagara County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant who serves as its manager, heads the committee. Members include Councilman John Jacoby, town attorney Alfonso Marra Bax, Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte, Lew-Port Superintendent of Schools Paul Casseri, Niagara-Wheatfield Superintendent of Schools Daniel Ljiljanich, Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch and Deputy Mayor Vic Eydt, Jennifer Pauly of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, and James Bissell, representing the Tuscarora Nation.
Formed in response to Section 203, an executive order approved and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last June in response to the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the resulting national protest, the group is charged with reviewing LPD’s current deployments, strategies, policies procedures and practices. It is then called to “develop a plan to improve such deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, for the purposes of addressing the particular needs of the communities served by such police agency and promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.”
Broderick described the group’s work thus far as “very preliminary.”
“We had one meeting, we distributed the manuals, it was real short, a half-hour meeting. We asked everyone to take a week and read the manuals. We’re going to get together again and that will be more meat and potatoes.”
Broderick said its goal “is to abide by … what the governor says we’re required to do; make some changes in our community and respect everybody.”
He said thus far the committee is considering an online survey to gauge to community’s sentiment.
“(That) is what Middleport and Hartland (did),” Broderick said. “They put together a survey and they put it online. Anyone who wants to fill out the survey (could do it.)
“I don’t think we’re going to have a public hearing, but we’re going to do the survey route.”
Once developed, Broderick said the survey would be on the Town of Lewiston website (www.townoflewiston.us) as well as the Lewiston Police home page and the Tuscarora Nation website. He said N-W Schools Superintendent Ljiljanich has offered to assist in its online development, adding that, “us as a group will put together the questions.”
Of the anticipated input from the committee members, he said, “We’re trying to get different aspects from the Town of Lewiston. Everyone has a different relationship with law enforcement – through the schools, the festivals, our schools.
“Our business community is a pretty quiet walking community, there’s no patrols walking the streets. So it’s not the businesses themselves, per se.
“But it could be,” he said, adding that any business with a concern could go to Jennifer Pauly. He suggested that Pauly’s background with Lewiston’s festivals and experiences with law enforcement activities in the village would prove helpful in this area.
“She’s the one who gets there in the wee hours of the morning, she sees what is going on.”
Of the talk on police reform, Broderick added, “Change is always hard. Just from me being a police officer looking at some of the things the governor is doing, I cringe at it … like bail reform.
“I believe bail reform (in concept) was a good idea. But what should have occurred is that they should have put together a committee to analyze it, and that committee should have included prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, police officers (and) minority organizations.
“It should have been a whole melting pot to go together, because just to wipe out all the bail for all those scenarios was a terrible idea.
“So I’m not against police reform per se, but just to flip-flop it, do a 180 degree, upside down turn of it, I wouldn’t agree with that. It’s a not a bad thing.”
While Broderick said he supports police reform overall, he did say he felt Lewiston’s police department and the small community it serves simply does not has the issues that other much larger departments contend with and, “It may be harder for our community to make changes, than it is for the City of Buffalo or Rochester.
Chief Previte said that reform is an everyday concern in today’s police departments.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that probably the police departments, specifically in this state have been in a constant state of reform (already) because of the changes in bail reform. Being in law enforcement, people don’t realize (this). It’s probably one of the professions that’s been reformed the most … recently. It’s been so dynamic. …”
“I understand the state’s intention, but I think that there’s always a problem, first of all when you mandate something and don’t fund it, which is a constant issue with the state.
“And I think that it’s a generalized approach, where you can’t treat it as a generalized approach. The Lewiston Police Department is not the Rochester Police Department. I don’t have the same issues. … Some it is too broad. …
“Having said that, I think it could be a good thing. (But) we have a pretty unique relationship, I think with the community.
“(We’re) well accepted, well liked, well supported. That has been a focus here since I’ve been a supervisor. That was the focus when I became chief, was to reach out to the community. I think it has helped. We have a good relationship and a healthy relationship.
“And I also think it’s a lot easier to manage.”
Explaining his position, Previte continued, “Some of the things the state has been concerned about, like what happened in Seattle or with George Floyd (there was numerous complaints). So the state was concerned.
“But here, it’s just such a different dynamic. If I have an officer that’s a problem here, I know the next day. It’s too small; I can’t hide anybody here, even if I wanted to, which I would never want to. But it’s not the same; I don’t have the same issues.
“If we were having some issue with something or somebody, with an officer here or with the public, or if there was a racial issue or a tension with the police department or the public, it would be evident to everybody. It is a community that is that small, that close. I would hear about it.
Of Lewiston’s rank and file, he added, “Hopefully a little bit of my outlook has rubbed off on them.”
Of the police reform measure, Previte went on to say, “Regardless of how it’s presented I still think this is a good opportunity to engage with the public some more. And get some feedback from the different stakeholders that we have in the town – even if we’re things doing well, how we can do them better. (And) if we can’t do them better, how make sure and ensure that we continue to them well through training, etc.
“If we don’t have problems and this committee looks at it and concludes that we’re doing pretty well in the community … then the focus can be how do we continue that.”
Previte said there were preliminary discussions on conducting a survey at the first meeting and that he supports it.
Recalling the Sentinel’s earlier Lewiston Police survey (wnypapers.com Sept. 20, 2014), it gauged community sentiment on the Lewiston Police Department, and questioned whether the department should be retained or disbanded. Results found that “95% of Lewiston residents ages 18 and older voted in favor of retaining the Lewiston Police Department.”
Examples of comments received by residents include the following:
•“We need them! They (are) vital to our community!”
•“These guys know Lewiston best and they are always right there when needed. It’s also nice having their presence close to the school district! Yes. As a parent it makes it nice to know they are right there if ever needed! Also a good deterrent for criminals.”
•“Awesome job out there! We can all rest a little more comfortably knowing you’re protecting us and our loved ones!”
•“Yes! They make this community safe. Especially with all the festivals and concerts, we need them!”
•“Yes, I have lived in Lewiston all (of) my life and there is a reason I choose to stay here. Lewiston is an inherently safe place to live, and the reason for that is the Lewiston Police Department and its dedicated staff of officers that keep this area safe.”
•“Absolutely! We would be insane to even consider giving them up!”
•“I feel safe in my community and at my house. Having (policemen) be our neighbors and a part of our community is priceless.”
•“Yes, keep the (LPD), but make it compulsory for the events and festivals to pay for the police service.”
At this writing, the ad hoc committee, which met Thursday, is said to be moving toward developing an online survey to gauge the public’s sentiment on police reform, which would be introduced in the near future. Lewiston Police, like all law enforcement agencies in New York, is required to submit their plan to the state by April 1.