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Town hall addresses questions about GCPD and the community

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In a digital gathering last week, the Glen Cove Police Department detailed its policies and procedures in an effort to assure the community, and especially its minority members, that what happened in Minneapolis would never happen in Glen Cove.

The speakers in the July 2 digital town hall included Mayor Tim Tenke, Police Chief William Whitton, Deputy Chief Chris Ortiz, the Rev. Roger Williams and Deacon Sheryl Goodine of First Baptist Church of Glen Cove, State Sen. Jim Gaughran, Assemblyman Charles Lavine and County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton. The meeting, hosted by Microsoft Teams, was open to the public, and viewers could ask questions.

Tenke also announced that a new committee would be launched to help community members of all ages, and particularly those in communities of color, meet and discuss issues in the city, and to relay their concerns to city, school or law enforcement officials.

“I’ve talked to a few people before this meeting took place, and I know for a fact that I will have a lot of people that are really interested in getting involved,” said Antwan Brown, a 24-year-old from Glen Cove who is active in community affairs. “There can be opportunities for scholarships, food drives. There can be opportunities for fundraising, and also I wanted to get college tours brought back.”

Goodine asked about the Glen Cove Police Department’s policies, practices and training, including the use of force, and de-escalation techniques to prevent cases of brutality in the city. Whitton said that de-escalation is not a new term for the GCPD, and that it has been implemented in training over the past five years.

Last year, Whitton said, there were 425 arrests in Glen Cove, and 11 had additional resisting-arrest charges. “So that means to me, out of 425 arrests, the officers are talking people into the handcuffs,” he said. “They’re not fighting people into the handcuffs.”

When someone does resist arrest, Whitton explained, officers use what is called the “straight arm bar technique” to control the individual. If he or she continues to fight, mace or a taser can be used. Whitton said that tasers were used twice in 2017, were not used at all in 2018 and were used three times last year.

He added that chokeholds have never been taught, and their use has never been authorized by the GCPD.

When it comes to firearms, Whitton said, since the department’s founding in 1918, an officer has discharged a gun only once. That incident, which was non-fatal, occurred in the late 1960s.

Officers’ interactions with civilians are not recorded because the department does not use body cameras. Whitton said that while he would be open to body cameras, the cost of data storage has prevented the department from acquiring the technology. If the cost were to be covered by the federal government to fulfill a mandate requiring all police departments to use body cameras, Whitton said, he would welcome it.

DeRiggi-Whitton said that she was continuing to work to secure funding for body cameras.

Goodine also asked Whitton and Ortiz for a breakdown of the demographics in the GCPD, including rank, race, gender and Glen Cove residency.

Tenke said that candidates for the GCPD must have four-year college degrees. “We feel that this provides us with more mature, educated and responsible candidates who understand the complexities of our community,” he said.

The department has one chief, one deputy chief and three lieutenants. One oversees detectives, and the other two focus on operations and administration. There are eight patrol sergeants, six detectives and 34 police officers. Forty-nine of the 53 members of the department are Caucasian, three are Hispanic and one is black. Forty-eight are male and five are female.

“Over the last couple of years, we had two black officers that happened to be detectives retire and one Hispanic sergeant retire,” Whitton said. “So, to that end, we do realize that we need to become diversified, and we’re going to work to those ends to do that.”