ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — During the first installment of the 2021 State of the State, Governor Cuomo spoke about several “flaws” that have surfaced during the “low-tide” of this past year. Cuomo also narrowed in on the need to repair the deep schisms between minority communities and police departments.

“Last year, exposed the tensions between the community and the police more starkly than ever before,” Cuomo said. “This is a national crisis. Feelings are deep and complex; emotions run high on both sides.”

Governor Cuomo said that “divorce is not an option” for communities and police departments, and the only way to create positive change is through public safety reform.

Executive Order 203 created the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which requires all New York local police departments and governments to collaborate with their communities on a specific plan for change.

The 2021 agenda states, “Localities are required to engage their community and ratify a plan by April 1, 2021. Failure to complete this process will result in loss of State funding.” 

Several communities have gotten a head start with community feedback sessions. The City of Albany created the Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative that streams public input conferences to “engage in a robust conversation about policing in Albany and explore opportunities to reimagine how we create safety in our community. “

In today’s State of the State speech, Cuomo highlighted Schenectady as a community that is paving the way on community collaboration.

William Rivas proposed his idea of a Community Diversity Panel during one of Schenectady’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative video discussions where community members could discuss concrete plans for change.

“To create real change and impact across the board, the community and its leaders have to be involved in the conversation,” said Rivas. “And I feel like this is where Schenectady is really leading.”

From there, Schenectady created the Community Diversity Panel. Now Rivas is one of the five panel members who will interview prospective officers before candidates take an oath to protect Schenectady. The panel consists of community members from diverse backgrounds that meet with potential officers to discuss not only their experience but also the community’s expectations.

“It’s important to have those conversations,” said Rivas. “Before somebody walks into your house, you want them to know the rules of your house.”

Rivas and the panel have interviewed one officer candidate so far in Schenectady. However, he believes this initiative and Cuomo’s executive order should be seen as only the beginning of the changes to come from the new collaborative process.

“We’re now sitting in the rooms, and we’re saying, these are the things we have issues with, these are the changes we request, and we’re requesting to be a part of the change,” said Rivas. “This is the one thing that may have never happened if we had not had the awakening of the Black Lives Matter movement.”