Implementing Police Reform Under the Governor's Executive Order 203

Continuing Legal Education Materials

Summary by Richard Rifkin, Legal Director, Government Law Center

The Government Law Center hosted the first program of the 2021 Warren M. Anderson Legislative Seminar Series on February 19, 2021. 

The purpose of the program was to discuss the implementation of the Governor's Executive Order 203, which requires municipalities with police forces to "reform and reinvent" policing. 

On June 12, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 203 requiring each municipality with a police force to put together a collaborative, made up of interested parties. This collaborative was required, through a defined procedure, to propose police reforms for its municipality. The order required that a plan approved by the municipality's governing body be submitted to the Governor's office by April 1, 2021. A failure to comply would result in a loss of police funding from the state. The Government Law Center's Anderson program consisted of a discussion regarding the implementation of this executive order.

The first two speakers were Jeremy Shockett and Cal Whiting, the Deputy Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Public Safety in the Office of the Governor. They summarized the requirements of the Executive Order, explaining the steps that each covered municipality had to take in order to be in compliance. A good number of the required steps were procedural, but, in the end, an approved plan had to be submitted by April 1. The order provided that failure to submit a plan would result in a loss of funds. However, the speakers noted that the Governor's executive budget, which is now a proposal for consideration by the Legislature, would also provide for the possibility of a monitor of the police department of a non-compliant municipality, with the expenses of the monitor to be paid by the municipality.

An important issue that the speakers from the Governor's office clarified was that for purposes of compliance, the substance of the plan would not be a factor. Compliance would be considered only by determining whether or not a plan had been submitted. In the question period, the speakers noted that what might follow after the April 1 deadline was still very much an open question.

The following speaker, Debora Brown-Johnson, President of the Albany Branch of the NAACP, considered the implementation of the Order from the perspective of community organizations. She emphasized the importance of their participation in the process of developing the plan and discussed the role that they should play. This, she said, was critical to a successful outcome.

Elayne Gold, a lawyer from Roemer, Wallens Gold & Mineaux who specializes in labor law, then discussed how state law, such as the Taylor Law, and more specifically, collective bargaining agreements, will impact on the process. They impose limitations on changes that can be made without the agreement of the unions representing police officers. The question as to any proposed reform is whether it can be adopted by the local governing body without union consent.

Farhang Heydari, Executive Director of the Policing Project at NYU Law School, presented a somewhat different view as to how to achieve the goals of the executive order. He said that there were areas of police reform that were beyond the differences that were likely to be found in each of the municipalities subject to the order. Those reforms were universal and applied to all departments within the state. For these, the state, rather than each of the individual municipalities, should be the policymaker, and he recommended that the Legislature act on these issues. For example, he suggested that police training be uniform throughout the state and the requirements for such training programs be set by the Legislature, not the individual municipalities.

An extensive question and answer period followed, with most of the questions being addressed to the representatives of the Governor's office.

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