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Letter: More Civilian Oversight of Police Practices Needed (Journal News)

To the Editor:

The recent shooting death of Kenneth Chamberlain looks on the surface like too many other cases of police officers overreacting to African-American men, shooting to kill when less deadly reactions might have defused a situation.

We do not know yet what actually happened in the encounter between White Plains police and Mr. Chamberlain on Nov. 19, when his medical alert device activated (perhaps accidentally) and brought police to his apartment. Community groups and individuals are calling for an independent investigation into this incident, and into the policies and practices of the White Plains Police Department in such cases.

Such civilian oversight can eliminate the perception of prejudice and injustice, ensure that all involved receive a fair and impartial hearing, and build trust between law enforcement and our communities.

Several organizations — the AntiRacist Alliance, Ministers Fellowship Council, New York Civil Liberties Union-Lower Hudson Valley, OneAccord, WESPAC Foundation, Westchester Blacks in Law Enforcement, Westchester Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence, White Plains/Greenburgh NAACP and Yonkers NAACP — will be working together to bring civilian oversight to police departments in White Plains and all of Westchester.

We are concerned about “use of force” policies and procedures as well as the behavior of any individual officers.

A Westchester law enforcement policy and procedure oversight committee could provide an effective mechanism to adjudicate the ongoing epidemic of questionable police actions within Westchester, and relieve some of the suspicion that grows among the county’s residents each time such an incident occurs.

The writer, pastor of Mt. Hope AME Zion Church in White Plains, is co-chair, Westchester Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence.

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