Building Trust in a Climate of Fear

Carolyn Mackie Oss PicFostering a relationship of trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community is critical to the safety of all Ossining residents. How do we achieve that at a time when federal immigration policy is dictated by tweets that foment fear and division?

At the Thursday, July 25, Village Board work session, we will discuss a policy regarding the Ossining Police Department’s interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It is my hope that everyone approaches this discussion with a sincere desire to work together so that we can find the best path forward for Ossining. In this climate where federal policy-making is recklessly conducted on social media, the importance of local government proactively and responsibly establishing a thoughtful policy related to interactions with ICE, is strikingly evident.

Every community must find its own best path for building trust between local law enforcement and residents. Is maintaining communication between OPD and ICE best for Ossining? Is eliminating communication with ICE better for our residents? How much do we all understand about the current practices of local law enforcement and the practices of ICE? There are a number of questions to ask that will inform responsible policy making.

Comments by residents and Village officials at the last public meeting were emotional and prompt questions that cut to the core of who we are as a country and a community.

How can we not respond emotionally to this current state of our nation where children are separated from parents for months, asylum seekers are detained in crowded cages under horrifying and inhumane conditions, and threats to round up thousands of people are a top priority of our president? These actions are not just felt by strangers in some far away place, they are felt deeply and personally right here in our village.

How does a local law enforcement agency responsibly interact with a federal agency that is guided by a president who rules with a doctrine of hate, racism and fear mongering? Is any communication by the Ossining Police Department with ICE a tacit approval of the president’s cruel and misguided immigration policy? Or does this communication actually benefit local families that are targeted by ICE?

My job as mayor, and the job of all Village officials, is to keep the people of Ossining safe, and to ensure that everyone is treated with dignity.

What is the role of the Village Board in determining the policy for how OPD engages with ICE, or any federal law enforcement agency? Establishing big picture policy for every department is the responsibility of the Village Board. And the Village Charter tasks us, as the Board of Police Commissioners, with an even greater responsibility for oversight of law enforcement than of any other Village department.

At last week’s meeting Chief Sylvester explained OPD’s current policy of maintaining communication with ICE, and having local officers observe the movements of ICE when they are in Ossining. Village Trustees and I expressed concerns and questioned the benefits and costs of this approach.

In preparation for Thursday’s discussion, officials are encouraged to seek input from local law enforcement, community organizations, and residents. Our goal is to come to a consensus on a plan forward, so that a resolution can be on the agenda at an August legislative session. Residents are encouraged to share questions and thoughts with the Village Board at bot@villageofossining.org.

I believe there is genuinely a shared goal of seeking to strengthen trust between local law enforcement and our immigrant community. Achieving that goal will only happen if we are all working together in a collaborative, not combative, manner.

 

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