Senate Bills Improve Police – Community Relations

Malcolm A. Smith

January 27, 2009

Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith (D-St. Albans) today  applauded Senate colleagues for passing two bills that will begin to restore public trust in police and the criminal justice system.


The first bill sponsored by Senator Smith, S.8407, requires the Municipal Police Training Council to develop procedures enhancing police officer recruitment efforts and increasing police awareness of racial, ethnic, religious and gender issues.


This bill together with S.7728, sponsored by Senator Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) are two of several bills recommended by the Tri-Level Legislative Task Force. The Task Force report, Improving Public Confidence in Law Enforcement and Our Criminal Justice System, was the culmination of a 18 month-long examination of  police policies and applicable laws that contribute to the likelihood of excessive force.


Both bills passed the Senate unanimously.


“Both of these measures were needed to help foster a new era for police,” said Senator Smith. “Today we move towards our ultimate goal of opening new channels for police statewide when it comes to community education and sensitivity.”


Padavan’s bill extends tuition waivers for police officers enrolled in baccalaureate or higher degree programs to both State University of New York and City University of New York colleges. The Report recommended tuition waivers for police officers to encourage police to obtain higher degrees.


Senator Smith’s bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblymember Keith L.T. Wright (D-Harlem). Wright’s bill, A.564-A, passed unanimously in the Assembly on Wednesday, June 4, four days before the Task Force released the report.


Smith, who co-chairs the Tri-Level Legislative Task Force, worked with elected officials at the federal, state and local levels as they held a series of public hearings last year in the aftermath of the 2006 Sean Bell killing in Queens. Bell was an unarmed patron of a Queens club. He was celebrating… on the morning of his wedding when he was confronted, shot and killed by police.


Members of the Task Force reviewed hours of testimony submitted by witnesses at public hearings throughout New York City seeking to improve police policy and procedures. These bills follow the recommendations of the report, said Senator Smith.

“We unveiled the Tri-Level report ten days ago on the steps of City Hall and here we are today passing these bill just a little over a week later. That’s the way Albany should work,” said Smith.

The comprehensive report has outlined recommendations for legislative and policy changes that would modify police conduct and restore faith in police and law enforcement agencies. In doing so, the report calls for measures that ensure that the majority of police officers who carry out their duties professionally, ethically, and at great risk, are not held back by outdated policies and procedures within their police departments.


Ultimately, the report recommends a broad strategy to reduce tensions between our communities and the police officers charged with their protection.


“These two Senate bills only begin to address the strained relationship between police and the communities they protect and serve. My Senate colleagues and I intend to peruse all the recommendations in  the Task Force report so that police operate within and not above the communities they serve,” Smith concluded.


The report makes 15 recommendations, with seven deemed a high priority.


The proposed Tri-Level legislative agenda would:

  • Require law enforcement officials who have discharged their weapons to be tested for the presence of drugs and/or alcohol within three hours of such discharge.


  • Require visual and audio recording of custodial interrogations which take place at police stations or other places of detention.


  • Target funding and technical assistance to municipalities to foster recruitment efforts resulting in greater diversity among police personnel, and diversity sensitivity training for police officers.


Additionally, the legislation would:


  • Authorize the State Attorney General to investigate and prosecute the alleged commission of any criminal offense committed by police officers in connection with performance of their official duties.


  • Authorize the Division of State Police to secure and freeze the scene of a crime when allegations of police abuse are involved.