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A better approach to criminal justice

One of the most challenging dilemmas facing law enforcement today is building and repairing trust with the communities they serve. This task has proven to be especially daunting in our most heavily policed neighborhoods; those hit hardest by crime and where distrust between cops and community has often festered.

While great strides have been made in the last few years to bridge this gap, there is still much more work to be done. As a candidate for Westchester County district attorney, the county’s chief law enforcement officer, I promise to make improving relations between community and law enforcement a top priority.

In his February 2015 speech at Georgetown University on hard truths in law enforcement and race relations, FBI Director James Comey said “we must work to really see each other. Perhaps the reason we struggle as a nation is because we’ve come to see only what we represent, at face value, instead of who we are. We simply must see the people we serve.” In the same speech Comey later added “We simply must find ways to see each other more clearly.”

Police departments and community groups across the nation have taken this simple yet profound advice, finding creative ways to bring cops and community together. We’ve seen countless examples of this here in Westchester, whether it be “Coffee with a Cop,” “National Night Out” or several other initiatives.

For instance, in 2017, the Yonkers PBA founded the “BRICK” program which stands for Building Relationships through Interactions with Cops and Kids. BRICK sessions combine small, diverse groups of Yonkers police officers with teens from local high schools, civic groups and sports programs where they have open, honest and unscripted discussions on hard topics such as police brutality and officer-involved shootings. Most importantly, they take time to talk to each other, to listen to each other and to see each other.

My plan as the next district attorney is to mirror our law enforcement partners and find innovative ways to integrate attorneys from our office with members of the community, particularly local youths. I envision members of the DA’s office not just appearing at schools and speaking to students in an assembly type setting but sitting and speaking with our youths, making every effort to see and understand each other.

I feel it is incredibly important that our prosecutors have an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a local kid from Mount Vernon, a senior citizen from Mamaroneck or an at-risk youth from Yonkers. I also believe it is important that people understand the efforts of law enforcement and that they hear from us on what we do and why we do it. This can only help achieve our goal of delivering justice with compassion for all people of Westchester.

The ancillary benefits from programs like these can be tremendous. An authentic discussion between prosecutors and students may open their eyes to a profession they’d never considered. This can be particularly true when students identify with the attorneys due to shared experiences and upbringing, things only learned through real, face to face conversation.

This same sincere discourse with at-risk youths may alter the trajectory of their lives in a most positive way. What better way to prevent crime than by lighting the way for our historically underserved youths towards a more positive way of life?

Throughout my campaign I have been meeting with various members of our community to listen to their concerns and to learn from their experiences. I’ve sat and chatted with religious leaders, business owners, law enforcement officials and more. I recently had the privilege of sitting with the amazing director of the Yonkers Police Athletic League, Marisol Mancebo, and we’ve already begun to examine ways in which the DA’s office can meet with the kids in the PAL programs.

Should I be elected district attorney, I look forward to building these programs and to expanding on what was already begun by current DA Mimi Rocah.

FBI Director Comey closed his “Hard Truths” speech by saying the following; “We all have work to do — hard work, challenging work — and it will take time. We all need to talk and we all need to listen, not just about easy things, but about hard things, too. Relationships are hard. Relationships require work. So let’s begin that work. It is time to start seeing one another for who and what we really are. Peace, security, and understanding are worth the effort.”

I look forward to this challenging work. It will certainly be worth the effort.

Cacace, who served 18 years as a Westchester County Court judge, is a Democratic candidate for DA.


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