Sag Harbor Says It Will Seek A More Diverse Police Force

Sag Harbor Village Police Headquarters. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

Like other communities across the state, Sag Harbor is preparing to submit a report on police department practices and proposed reforms that was mandated last June by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the protest movement that followed.

On Monday, the advisory committee established by the Sag Harbor Village Board to work with Police Chief Austin J. McGuire met one final time to polish a draft that included 17 recommendations and was to be released to the public Wednesday morning, March 10. The Village Board will hold a hearing on the report when it meets on Wednesday, March 24, at 6 p.m. A final copy must be submitted to the state by April 1.

Those recommendations include calls for continued annual training of officers to recognize intrinsic bias and how to deescalate potentially violent situations; a proposal to equip officers with body cameras; a pledge to diversify the police force with a goal of hiring additional officers of color; improved recordkeeping; and regular updating of policies.

Committee member Angela Vallot took the lead in suggesting changes to recommendations, especially those involving hiring practices and police-community relations, to provide them with more teeth. “How can we make these recommendations actionable?” she asked.

Following her suggestions, “a commitment to diversify the police department” was edited to read “a commitment to recruit a police department that reflects the demographics of this community.”

Similarly, recommendations to increase training against intrinsic bias and deescalating potentially violent situations were separated from recommendations to increase training in things like first aid and CPR.

Chief McGuire said changes like those recommended by Ms. Vallot were welcome to the process, as he stressed that he did not have all the answers.

Committee members also urged a change in language to a recommendation calling for more interaction with Sag Harbor’s traditionally Black communities to call for “community immersion” and a stronger commitment to become more involved on a regular basis with those communities.

The chief said Sag Harbor is ahead of the curve in some aspects, pointing to an ongoing effort to update all department policies by working with a company call Lexipol that provides help to departments working in that capacity.

The chief has also taken pains to explain that Sag Harbor would gladly hire more officers of color when it does higher new officers, but that there are few of them available, despite efforts to recruit them. The department currently has one Latino officer, who worked for years as a traffic control officer before being hired by the Port Authority of New York as an officer and then by Sag Harbor when there was an opening in the village.

Residency rules that require an officer live in the village, at least initially, also hamper minority recruitment because of the high cost of apartments, the chief said.

Advisory committee member Gregory Cuyjet suggested that it might be necessary for the Black community to actively seek out candidates for potential openings on the village force.

In previous meetings, Chief McGuire has pointed out that Sag Harbor has the smallest force on the East End among village departments, yet it responds to the second most number of calls behind Southampton Village.