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Statement Regarding Final Report on Use of Force Issues in Westchester County, NY

Dated: Wednesday May 21, 2008

My name is Lieutenant Charles Wilson. I am the National Chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers and a career law enforcement professional with nearly thirty-seven years of service to my chosen profession and the community. I have served in every facet of the criminal justice profession from patrol officer to Chief of Police. I make mention of my personal background solely to provide some basis for my full and complete personal knowledge and understandings of the inner workings of the justice system as it currently is and has been, and so that the words I say here today may be taken in the context of one who truly understands and recognizes that system for what it is and what it can be.

Law enforcement training, regardless of the agency, has traditionally placed little or no value on instructing officers in proper techniques for plain-clothed intervention, in both on and off duty situations, leaving the learning and assimilation of these issues to on-the-job training. And the fact that this failure to properly train has had it's most debilitating impact predominantly on officers of color has not escaped our attention. Instances such as those involving Cornel Young Jr., Derwin Pannel, Desmond Robinson, Corvet Curley and, most recently, Christopher Ridley, have resounded with questions regarding departmental policy and procedure in these interactions. Yet little or no positive or distinctive change in these policies has occurred. And this lack of adequate and proper training has imperiled both white and black officers, in and out of uniform.

With the publication of the "Final Report of the Panel to Review Use of Force Training at the Westchester County Police Academy", and specifically where it concerns their recommendations regarding guidelines, policies and available resources in Use of Force Training, the failures and inadequacies of non-standardized training concepts, policies and procedures are facts that can no longer be disputed, and should be accepted unequivocally by both law enforcement and the community-at-large. It is only when we understand and openly discuss the failures of the system that we can begin to concentrate on its strengths and make it more effective and productive for all.

We now call upon Governor David A. Paterson and the members of both the New York State Senate and Assembly to prepare and pass comprehensive legislation that will have both a direct and immediate change in the manner by which all law enforcement officers in the State of New York are trained, as we believe it is the lack of appropriate and adequate training which is the root cause of these incidents, along with the continued perceptual imagery by law enforcement officers of young black males as criminal perpetrators. And this training must extend beyond the classrooms of the police academy, as it is only through continuous and constant reinforcement of proper training concepts that full implementation will be achieved.

We urgently recommend that all officers, regardless of their duty assignment, when they are confronted with any person whom they believe to be armed, be trained to always announce their presence using the wording POLICE DROP YOUR WEAPON. This MUST BE DONE in a loud, audibly understood manner.

We urgently and strongly recommend that all officers assigned to duty in plainclothes be trained to ACCEPT THE COMMANDS OF ANY UNIFORMED OFFICER IMPLICITLY, UNEQUIVOCABLY AND IMMEDIATELY, REGARDLESS OF THEIR FAMILIARITY. This training must be presented in a complete and comprehensive form PRIOR TO BEING ASSIGNED TO ANY PLAINCLOTHED DUTY.

As well, we recommend that, where there are none, departmental policies must be put in place dictating that officers in an off-duty capacity shall ONLY INTERVENE WHERE THERE IS A SEVERE AND IMMEDIATE THREAT TO LIFE. Where these policies exist, we recommend that they be reinforced on a continuous basis. It is better to be a living witness than a dead and buried statistic.

We equally suggest that all officers receive both enhanced and increased training in issues that direct themselves to better understanding the ethnic and cultural diversities of the communities they serve. The concepts of community policing dictate that COMMUNITY COMES FIRST, and not as an after thought.

Finally, we strongly recommend that all law enforcement agencies take more positive steps to educate the community as to the procedures by which they must interact. Programs such as What To Do When Stopped By The Police have been shown to have a high-level of impact on police-community relationships and provide a positive image of members of the law enforcement profession.

The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers and its affiliate chapters stand ready and prepared to offer both assistance and training in the formulation of policies, procedures and programs to better educate both law enforcement and the community.

We firmly believe that by implementing these recommended changes and improvements in the training regimens of the various law enforcement agencies in the Westchester County area, state-wide and nationally, the well-being and safety of all police officers and the communities they serve will be better assured. We have already seen, with drastic impact, the cost of their absence.

The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc, a 501.(c).(3) non-profit, is a premier national organization representing the interests and concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the communities in which they serve.

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