Editorial: A plan for reform

Editorial: A plan for reform

County Executive Steve Bellone during a press conference in Hauppauge. Photo from Suffolk County

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county’s comprehensive police reform and reinvention plan, which was approved by the Legislature back in March.

According to Bellone, the reform plan seeks cultural change in the Suffolk County Police Department, with enhanced civilian oversight, increased accountability and transparency through the use of body cameras, and an expanded mental health crisis response among many other initiatives and policy changes. 

The plan focuses on seven major points for reform: training and continuing education, recruitment and staffing, community policing, traffic stops, arrests and warrants, mental health response and police systems, accountability and body cameras. 

The body camera program has been a topic of debate not just locally, but nationally. While some believe that officers should not have to wear them, many think that it would be beneficial to not only those in uniform, but also to the county — it could save us money in terms of potential lawsuits or settlements.  

Right now, the county has a pilot program where a limited number of SCPD officers wear body cameras. In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, the police reform and reinvention plan proposed that body worn cameras be deployed as standard police worn equipment for all county police officers who engage with the public in the course of their professional duties. 

According to Bellone, starting in 2022, body-worn cameras will be deployed for approximately 1,600 SCPD officers with an incentive of $3,000 additional pay over the course of two years to wear them. Suffolk County has included, in its capital budget, $24 million over a five-year period for the purchase of the cameras, implementation of the program and maintenance of the body-worn cameras and data systems. 

Nassau County has implemented a similar program while other jurisdictions in the U.S. have already begun giving officers bonus pay, negotiated by the police unions, for wearing cameras.

While the financial incentive might seem unfair to some, it’s not the worst thing. 

If an officer gets a boost for wearing something that could help accountability and trust within the local police departments, then so be it. It would then create a domino effect, resulting in other officers jumping on board until each one is armed with a camera.

If all SCPD officers eventually sport a body cam, the bad apples will be weeded out and trust could come back to those who risk their lives on the job.