The Village of Montgomery Executive Order 203 Committee has been working hard to improve their police department. As per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order, every locality must adopt a plan for reform by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.
The committee is composed of the Montgomery Village Board as well as the Village of Montgomery Chief of Police William Herlihy. They have reached out to other members of the community including the clergy.
The group has been doing a comprehensive review of the department’s firearms policy. Approved firearms include the department issued primary handgun, secondary department authorized handgun, department owned or personally owned (approved by the chief of police) tactical patrol rifle as well as any other special use, department authorized firearm with department issued ammunition. Herlihy will issue department memos which will list all ammunition approved for official use including on and off duty ammunition.
The primary handgun for on-duty officers is the department issued SIG 229R 40 S&W handgun, which can only be loaded with department issued duty ammunition. A secondary handgun is authorized but not required while on duty. The secondary backup handgun can be an officer’s choice in 40 caliber, however it may only be carried after passing a yearly qualification. Failure to properly maintain an assigned firearm may result in disciplinary action. Damage or mechanical failure of any kind to a department authorized firearm will immediately be reported to a supervisor. The firearm/weapon will be taken out of service until such repair can be made. Officers needing a replacement firearm shall report to a department armorer or firearms instructor to be issued a replacement firearm.
All department approved handguns must be carried in a holster that has been approved by the chief of police and the officer must qualify with all firearms and holsters at the firing range before authorization will be given to carry them. All firearms shall be left in a safe and secure location when the officer is not carrying it. Officers are authorized by the chief of police to retain their department issued handgun while off duty and secure it safely. Officers are encouraged but not mandated to carry a handgun while off duty.
Officers must be certified in the legal, moral and ethical aspects of firearm use and in the safe handling and proficiency of firearm use before they are authorized to possess or carry any firearm. All officers will qualify at least twice annually in the safety and proficiency of authorized firearms use and at least annually in the legal aspects of deadly physical force.
Except for general maintenance, inspection or authorized training, officers shall not draw or exhibit their firearm unless circumstances create reasonable cause to believe that it may be necessary to lawfully use the weapon. Officers are prohibited from discharging a firearm when it appears that a reasonable danger exists of striking an innocent person and as a warning shot to halt a fleeing subject. They are also prohibited from firing at a fleeing subject unless the officer reasonably believes that the fleeing subject poses an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury if not immediately halted. Officers are also not allowed to fire at or from a moving vehicle, unless the officer reasonably believes that the occupants of the vehicle are using or about to use deadly force against the officer or another person and all other options have been exhausted. In addition, officers are prohibited from shooting blindly through doors or walls.
This policy is in order to keep both officers and civilians safe.
“The value of human life is immeasurable in our society,” the policy states. “Police officers have been delegated the awesome responsibility to protect life and property and apprehend criminal offenders. The apprehension of criminal offenders must at all times be subservient to the protection of life. The officer’s responsibility for protecting life must include his own.”
The department has also been reviewing its policy regarding use of force. Police officers may use the reasonable amount of force required to achieve lawful goals. They may use physical force in the performance of their official duties when attempting to make an arrest as well as attempting to prevent the escape from custody of a person who the officer reasonably believed committed an offense. An officer may also defend themselves or another person from what they believe to be the use or imminent use of physical force.
Any police officer present and observing another officer using force that they believe to be clearly beyond what is reasonable shall intercede to prevent the use of unreasonable force, if and when the officer has a realistic opportunity to prevent the harm. The officer is then required to report the instance to a supervisor.
The use of force policy includes a use of force continuum, which is a logical escalation or de-escalation of force options available in a use of force situation. This includes verbal persuasion as well as soft hand techniques. The latter entails the use of a firm grip, pressure points, joint manipulation and the application of temporary restraining devices such as handcuffs.
If an individual refuses to comply with verbal commands, officers may use pepper spray. The next step in the continuum calls for the use of personal defense techniques such as punches, kicks and knee strikes. If a compliance situation becomes heated, an officer may use a taser or baton. If an officer’s life is threatened then they may use a firearm or administer a chokehold.
To further strengthen the department, the committee continues to ask the community for input. They held a public discussion with community members on Feb. 3 and many ideas were brought forth.
Lisa Ruiz, a founding member of Valley Central Parents for Social Justice, asked the committee to include more people of color, as the committee is predominately white.
“If you don’t have people of color on your committee then there’s no way on God’s green Earth you can address what 203 was created to address,” she said.
Randi Picarello, Business Council of Greater Montgomery Executive Director, suggested that the police department employ foot patrols. This would enable village residents to form relationships with officers, facilitating trust.
Herlihy has emailed residents a survey on how public safety can be improved in the village. Written input can be sent to the village police department at PoliceReform@villageofmontgomery.org.
The police department now has a partnership with HONOR, which provides a short-term shelter for runaway and homeless youth 17 and under in Middletown. Herlihy is waiting on a callback from Hope Not Handcuffs. In this program, drug addicts who ask the police department for help will be immediately taken to a hospital and placed in a recovery program.
To make policies and announcements more accessible, Herlihy has been in contact with a web designer to create a website for the department.
The next public forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 17 at the Village of Montgomery Senior Center.