Panel explores bias, law enforcement
A "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Finger Lakes" panel organized by FLCC prompted a spirited discussion
FLCC’s first panel to discuss diversity in the Finger Lakes region, featuring several officials within the educational and law enforcement communities, quickly gave way to a spirited discussion in the chat section. To many commenters, the apparent lack of diversity on the panel was hypocritical, shutting out marginalized voices in favor of a “primarily homogenous panel,” according to viewer Adam Fryer.
The virtual event, conducted through Zoom, was called "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Finger Lakes: Healthy Dialogue and Collective Impact." Moderated by Ethan Fogg, president and CEO of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce, the discussion began at 6 p.m. Thursday with definitions of diversity, equity, inclusion and other concepts by FLCC’s Chief Diversity Officer Sim Covington, ending at 7:30 p.m.
Additional panelists included Caroline Chapman, director of communications for the Canandaigua City School District; City of Geneva Police Chief Mike Passalacqua; Assistant Director of Campus Safety for FLCC Derrick Smith; Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson; and City of Canandaigua Police Chief Mathew Nielsen.
After providing definitions of each of the key terms and questions regarding why each panelist accepted the invitation, Covington addressed questions posed by several viewers in the chat window of the event regarding the makeup of the panel. From his perspective as the only person of color, it was “important to talk about systemic racism,” and understand power structures, while also noting that for other parts of the country, law enforcement officials would have refused the invitation to participate.
“If the leadership is at the table, that cannot be dismissed or ignored,” he said, suggesting that now is an opportunity to “hold them accountable instead of automatically dismissing them.”
Several panelsts expressed an openness about listening and communicating with the larger community, with an emphasis on changing policies and training.
“We’re truly willing to listen. It’s a positive, right thing to do,” Henderson said in response to a question from Fogg about reducing bias while maintaining community safety.
Similarly, Passalacqua discussed how his department had adopted a bias training for the department, along with a greater focus on de-escalation and leadership.
“Policy is only as strong as the leadership that is imposing that,” he said. “I expect more of the officers that are working for me.”
Nielsen also emphasized the importance of both bias training for his department and continuing what he called the 21st Century policing model.
“We want to have good policies, oversight on those policies,” he said, describing how he had helped oversee an expansion on the use of technology such as body cameras and social media to provide assistance with community policing.
Many commenters consistently wanted to know how officers were being held accountable, which Covington addressed.
“I do think we need to have systems and practices in place not only in our communities but in our police agencies,” he said, emphasizing how “leadership in regards to moving the dial starts from the top down.
“If you don’t change the white power that exists, having the expectation of real change is moot.”
Another discussion point involved educating the youth on these concepts early, something Chapman said was one of the prime goals for the district, emphasized through its mission and vision statement.
“We have a lot of work still ahead of us,” she said, although there had been additional movement, including a graduate of the Canandaigua City School District who was a student of color, and had an interest in mentoring younger students of a similar background.
“We look to continue it in whatever form it takes,” Chapman said.
While some of the commenters were unhappy with certain questions not being brought up to the panelists — such as the creation of a police accountability board with civilian oversight, or the use of language which some of the viewers described as “inflammatory and incorrectly creating a false dichotomy” — Covington ended the panel by expressing gratitude for the engagement.
“I’m happy about the chat, quite frankly,” he said, noting that it meant many of the viewers felt safe enough to voice their thoughts on the panel.
“I’m happy people are able to show up and speak their truth,” Convington said.