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POLICE REFORM: More input necessary

It’s evident, after Tuesday’s community meeting led by Sheriff Jim Quattrone that more such meetings must be held throughout the county, including more than one meeting in Dunkirk and Jamestown.

The cities are where a majority of police-citizen interaction happens, and it’s a little curious that those who likely have the most grievances to air had to drive to Sinclairville to air them. Those who did attend spoke candidly and bluntly about what they have seen in their neighborhoods.

We’re glad they did.

We also note that more public notice of the community meetings should be given to ensure broad attendance. It is understandable that there are concerns about having packed meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic and the current outbreak in the north county, but our elected officials must use the tools at their disposal to hear from as many voices as necessary as they craft a response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s edict to change police department policies and protocols.

We live during a time of division, and it’s evident from the meeting that the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative could easily turn into just another point of division in our county. We must not let that happen.

It’s obvious that not all life experiences are shared experiences, even in a place as small and sparsely populated as Chautauqua County. A multiple-car Dunkirk Police Department response on the numbered streets is not viewed the same way as a response on Fairview Avenue in the city.

The fact that there is such division in our views indicates more than one community police meeting is necessary and that everyone involved must be open to change. This is not the time for the community nor for police officials to be dismissive of the stories they are hearing. It’s not the time to say this is the way things have always been done or the way procedure is written.

Let’s be productive with these discussions. Why are the procedures written the way they are? If they shouldn’t be changed, explain why. Why aren’t we using the avenues for independent review of citizen-police interactions? How can we rebuild both the public’s trust in its police departments and police officers’ trust in the public they serve?

If we here in Chautauqua County want to avoid the unrest and division evident in bigger cities, these are the questions that we need to answer.

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