Village of Le Roy Police Chief Chris Hayward acknowledged that “we’re not perfect” as he encouraged the newly formed, 15-member Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative to provide the input to achieve its goal of developing a revised policing plan that meets the community’s needs in accordance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203.
“We’re trying to get diversity here,” Hayward said on Wednesday night as the group met at the Village Hall for the first time. “I know that we’re not perfect and as for criticisms, this is what we want to do here. We want to do better.”
Hayward, sitting at a table at the front of the room with Mayor Greg Rogers, started the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the governor’s call for police reform, members of the local advisory group, roles and responsibilities of the key players, and a timeline leading to the formation and submission of the plan to the state by April 1.
A discussion followed, focusing on policing in Le Roy, hiring and diversity, use of force policy, and accountability and transparency.
Public Defender Jerry Ader suggested the formation of a citizen-led advisory group or committee that could field individual comments or complaints, noting that people might feel more comfortable if that avenue was available.
Both Hayward and Rogers indicated that they are open to residents’ concerns regarding individual police officers and policing in general, with Rogers stating, “I’m the most approachable person in the room.”
Hayward said he is taking calls from citizens all the time, but said “we receive very few informal personnel complaints against the officers.”
He said he believes his agency is not transparent enough, but does not agree with a revised law that will allow disciplinary records for individual police officers, firefighters or corrections officers to be released without their written consent.
“That’s a violation of their constitutional rights,” he said.
Ader pressed on with his idea, adding that people would be hesitant to speak up “if they don’t think they would get a fair shake.”
Rogers said he would bring his suggestion back to the village board for discussion.
Hayward informed the group about the department’s hiring process, noting expanded interviewing, a 27-page background check packet for both full- and part-time officers and the ratifying authority of the mayor and village board.
As far as diversity on the police force, he said only one person of color applied in his 18 years as chief, adding that that individual did not make it through the background process. He then mentioned that minorities comprise only 1.7 percent of the Le Roy population before noting that the department has hired five women.
When Hayward said that it’s “getting tougher and tougher” to attract good candidates, Ader asked if there was a residency requirement.
“There is and there isn’t,” Hayward responded, prompting Ader to say, “You sound like a lawyer,” (prompting a chorus of laughter).
Hayward explained how the Civil Service scoring system guides hiring before mentioning that Le Roy’s police department of 16 officers now has “more of a balance who live in the community,” which he called a positive thing.
On the subject of use of force, Hayward said his department is steered by guidelines from the Municipal Police Training Council and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as having to abide by four large volumes of general orders.
He said that officers must intervene if they see that excessive force is being used and that shots cannot be fired at a moving vehicle unless the perpetrator is using deadly physical force.
Hayward said that currently his agency does not have a ban on chokeholds since “they haven’t been trained on chokeholds since the 1980s.” However, he is fervently against the use of chokeholds and said it could be included in the reform plan.
Other topics of discussion were as follows:
-- On accountability and transparency: Hayward said the “boiler plates are there, we just have to tailor it to our department.”
He said, once again, that he didn’t think the department is transparent enough and admitted that its record keeping and filing are substandard, but added that Deputy Clerk Eileen Carmel is making great strides in correcting the situation.
-- On collective bargaining’s effect on internal discipline: Ader inquired if the contract with the union made it tough for Hayward to impose discipline.
“We’re hamstrung by village law, not the collective bargaining agreement, which is pretty standard,” Hayward replied, adding that he doesn’t have the power to discipline; that is in the village board’s hands.
Attorney Jake Whiting said that he thought the chief could be “the hammer” on disciplinary measures, but problems could arise “if he’s cherry-picking.” He suggested that maybe the chief could be given more power when it comes to discipline (a letter of reprimand, for example), with the board handling more serious charges.
-- On citizens’ level of trust in police: Whiting said the level of distrust of police and government is at “an all-time high” and only accountability and transparency will fix it.
Hayward said the perception is that “they’re going to cover for each other.”
-- On police officers’ role in mental health needs: Social worker Christine Gephart commented that school resource officers and police officers are part of the support system in Le Roy, which is important and unique to the community.
Hayward mentioned the department’s involvement in the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative with Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, where intervention without arrest is at the forefront of the program.
-- On the timeline going forward: Hayward indicated that the group will meet again on Oct. 20 to identify and assess the current effectiveness of police practices and policies along with key metrics, with an eye on conducting public forums to gather recommendations.
Other tentative meeting dates are Nov. 17, Dec. 2, Jan. 14 and Feb. 28, but Hayward said he hopes to complete by Christmas the tasks of the Jan. 14 meeting – the sharing of the detailed plan with the stakeholder groups for final feedback, revised where appropriate and attain village board approval and ratification.
Cuomo’s Executive Order stipulates that community policing reform plans must be completed and submitted by next April to avoid the possible loss of state funding. Currently, the Le Roy PD receives $17,300 from New York State -- $5,850 for STOP DWI, $4,200 for Selective Traffic Enforcement Program and $7,250 for Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program.
Other members of the Le Roy committee are Sean Ancker, police department representative; Lori Steinbrenner, business representative; Le Roy School Superintendent Merritt Holly, school representative; Jack Hempfling, clergy representative.
Also, Weldon Ervin, Laura Kettle and Monica Scarlotta, citizen representatives; Mary Margaret Scanlan, mental health representative; Kevin Finnell, district attorney’s office, and James Farnholz, Le Roy town supervisor.
The City of Batavia Police Collaboration Advisory Stakeholder Group meets at 6 o’clock tonight at the City Centre Council Board Room.
The Genesee County Sheriff’s Department advisory group has set a meet-and-greet for 7 p.m. next Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse. Sheriff William Sheron will make a presentation at a full meeting of the Genesee County Legislature at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the same location.
Photo: The Village of Le Roy Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative listen to Chief Chris Hayward (blue shirt) on Wednesday night. Photo by Mike Pettinella.