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BPD chief works to change village culture

by Maerk Cuminale - Staff Writer
Tue, Oct 30th 2018 10:35 pm

The village of Brockport Police Department (BPD) recently announced that it will be expanding its role in community policing with a new initiative called “Coffee with the Chief” starting in November.

Since his swearing in as Chief of Police in April 2018, Mark Cuzzupoli has focused much of his efforts on involving the BPD in community affairs. Within the 2.2 square miles of the village, Cuzzupoli has sent forth officers to engage locals in positive interactions.

“I started the initiative—going back to when I was hired as the chief—to bump up the amount of time we spend with community policing,” Cuzzupoli said. “Part of that was more directed patrols of the downtown areas, talking to the merchants, talking with residents [and] people that visit the village.”

Now, the chief is offering residents an opportunity to engage directly with him at local restaurants once a month. The first session will be held at Java Junction Coffee Roasters on November 7. Owner Peter Apicella, 52, believed the engagement is a “great idea,” and even had some suggestions of his own.

“I suggested to him that he could even have guest speakers,” Apicella said. “He could have the mayor come in, or he could have the group that does the trees in town, the planning board or the building inspector. He liked that idea.”

For Cuzzupoli, who has contributed 23 years of service at the BPD, community policing was part of the platform that got him recognized by colleagues and the Brockport Village Board eventually leading to his appointment as chief in April. Brockport village mayor Margaret Blackman praised Cuzzupoli back in December 2017 for being a “strong advocate of community policing,” according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

The chief hopes that more friendly interactions with police officers will help to “break down barriers” between the department and residents.

“The more availability that we give to people to just talk to us—hopefully that will [help to] build relationships and trust,” Cuzzupoli said. “[People] should have the opportunity to know the officers by name and build a more personal connection.”

With national news coverage shedding light on police brutality throughout the country, Cuzzupoli feels a responsibility toward counteracting the stigma that is often attributed to police officers.

“Unfortunately, kids are taught to be nervous around police as they’re growing up,” the chief said. “You’ll have the parent that may say to their kid ‘you better behave or we’re going to call the police.’ That’s the worst thing [a parent] can do because you want people to feel comfortable coming forward.”

Similar to “white coat hypertension,” a syndrome that sees patients heart rates rise abnormally when confronted with medical professionals, many civilians have the same response to interactions with police officers. According to Cuzzupoli, developing a system of policing that reverses this response takes time.

“If you’re stopped for speeding, your heart rate goes up,” Cuzzupoli said. “If you’re a victim, your heart rate goes up … because it’s traumatic. If you’re a suspect, you’re going to be nervous. This takes all of those [factors] out of the picture. You want people to feel more comfortable.”

Although “Coffee with the Chief” has yet to commence, some concerns over the effectiveness of the initiative have been risen. According to senior criminal justice major at The College at Brockport Taylor Converse, more needs to be done.

“Initially when I think of community policing, I don’t really think about the Chief of police sitting in coffee shops waiting for the problems to come to him,” Converse said. “I think community policing [needs to be] more involved than that.”

With the meetings taking place during most residents’ work hours, from 9-10:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, Converse doesn’t see the chief’s plan as necessarily all that inclusive.

“If you think about poverty—a lot of people can’t get out to coffee shops,” the 27-year-old said. “They don’t have the transportation [or] the means. When they have issues that arise and they need something, or they need to communicate, they can’t necessarily get out to these coffee shops. I think that the more important thing would be to actually go to the streets of Brockport and talk to people—you know—kids playing basketball or going to the playgrounds and just kind of hanging out with them … and seeing what their needs are.”

For Converse, Cuzzupoli’s initiative does not address the population that feels most estranged from the police force.

“You want to get to all cultures, all races and all religions … and those dynamics are not necessarily found in coffee shops,” Converse said. “I like the initiative as a start, but I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done than just having some coffee.”

Updates on future events will be posted on BPD’s Facebook page and brockportpolice.com.

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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