Justice for All: Police departments focus on de-escalation, non-lethal tactics as evolution of law enforcement
As the nationwide conversation about police reform continues – departments in the Hudson Valley are focusing on de-escalation and new, non-lethal tactics.
Years of aggressive, high-profile and often deadly police encounters have led to a shift in policing that’s at the heart of police reform.
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“We can still arrest people,” says Orange County Undersheriff Ken Jones. “The new question is, why?”
Jones says de-escalation and mental health training are core reforms for his department.
“The best tool you have is your brain and your mouth,” says Jones. “When you have people who are trained to interact and identify these situations, then you’re going to have a better outcome.”
Maybrook Police Chief Butch Amthor agrees.
“It’s got to be a constant thing,” says Amthor. “It’s a change in philosophy.”
Both departments have non-lethal weapons on hand like firearms that shoot pepper ball and bean bag bullets as well as a new a Taser-like device that deploys strings to tie and subdue a suspect, called Bola Wrap.
“There’s a lot of variables certainly with these items,” says Amthor. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered police departments statewide to submit reform plans under Executive Order 203 last April after George Floyd’s 2020 death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide outrage.
NAACP Rockland President Wilbur Aldridge helped create plans for police departments in Ramapo, Haverstraw, Pound Ridge and the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department.
“When you go out to these calls you need a trained professional,” says Aldridge. “Either with you or on the phone with you or someone who can deal with that individual because quite often just the fact of police presence escalates the situation.”
Advocates and law enforcement officials say the key component to the next generation of policing is a focus on mental health. They recommend all departments have experts on staff.
“When you come in contact with mental health issues, you need mental health experience in order to be able to deal with that,” says Aldridge.
“These are important issues and the public believes they’re important,” says Undersheriff Jones. “Especially when you’re dealing with people in the throes of some sort of event or mental illness or trauma and they are unarmed. You have to be cognizant of your responsibility as a police officer.”
New York’s police reform bill does not mandate a timeline for police reforms to be implemented.
A representative for Gov. Cuomo’s office tells News 12 that local governments are responsible to enforce plans and that many departments statewide have already begun to do so.
Text and reporting by Blaise Gomez