CATSKILL — Greene County’s police reform and reinvention plan, which includes 25 recommendations for the sheriff’s office, was approved Monday by the Public Safety Committee.
The committee members adopted the plan unanimously without any discussion. The plan’s recommendations include increased recruiting efforts, upgrading the department’s records management system, body cameras and a community advocacy committee to review complaints.
The plan was developed in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in June, which required all municipalities with police departments to conduct a review of policies and procedures and develop a plan to improve them in a way that meets the needs of the community.
The Greene County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative held 10 meetings before the plan was released, three of which were public. The group looked at various topics such as how officers respond to mental health or addictions calls, how the sheriff’s office works with other agencies in the community, and use of force training and prejudices. Comments from other police services, community organizations and members of the public have been considered.
After releasing the plan, county lawmakers, along with collaboration members, held a public hearing on March 10.
Jewett resident Elide Bell encouraged lawmakers to wait for the plan’s passage until more comment can be garnered.
“My request is that the draft submitted to the Legislative Assembly not be accepted and we must redo it in an accessible, fair and transparent way,” she said during the public hearing. “If you choose to go ahead despite what I say, I ask that a public meeting be held next week to discuss the amendments and recommendations that should be included in this draft.”
Bell’s recommendations included additional de-escalation training, in-person bias training from a community-approved source, and for the office to adopt Campaign Zero’s use-of-force policy. Campaign Zero is a non-profit organization working to reduce police violence.
Bell also advocated for officers’ complaints and disciplinary records to be released annually.
« The FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] process to obtain complaint and discipline records is not an acceptable solution,” Bell said. “I have tried and failed several times to do so.”
Bell said it heard a number of reasons why its demands couldn’t be met, including that it was too cumbersome.
“If there are no complaints, it shouldn’t take very long. But we should all be wondering why hasn’t this already been requested by the committee and made available to the public? How is a difficult process like this transparent or accessible?”
The plan lists 11 disciplinary actions that have taken place over the past five years. No citizen complaints related to racial or gender bias have been documented. The ministry has not received a complaint about the use of force for more than a decade. The nature of the incidents and the type of discipline exercised were not listed.
“A negative police relations experience exists here with residents and visitors,” Bell said. “Just because it hasn’t been your experience or the experience of others like you or people who are in your bubble doesn’t mean the experiences here in our county are invisible or less…Your process will not succeed if it simply reaffirms the current functions, strategies and operations of a police service without delving into or taking into account the perspectives of those who seek reform.
Collaboration members Jeff Friedman, Kai Hillmann and Katie Oldakowski met with members of the black community to gather feedback, Friedman said during the public hearing.
“There’s a lot of reluctance in this community to speak up even in an environment that doesn’t include government officials or police,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of good feedback.”
Bell and Tannersville resident Stephen Nash-Webber advocated for officers to hand out business cards showing their name, badge number and how to submit complaints when interacting with the public.
Both residents lamented the lack of budget information in the review.
“Community needs could be better met if funding was budgeted in the right areas,” Bell said.
The committee has no discretion over the county’s budget, Cairo resident Monica Kenny-Keff said during the public hearing.
“A lot of the objections that we just heard were things that couldn’t be dealt with within the limited scope of this committee,” Kenny-Keff said. “There were many elements that could not be accessed by these committee members. The budget was not something that this committee or the sheriff’s office had no control over. »
Greene County passed its $112 million budget in November, including $4.9 million earmarked for the sheriff’s office.
“The delay means nothing if the process was not done correctly,” Bell said. “This exercise was not about the county or the committee just deciding whether the police are doing a good job, as is, or trying to tick the boxes for minimal participation… Certifying that the community was engaged in this process and this project with the spirit intended in the governor’s order would not be truthful or fair.”
Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione, who serves on the committee, said his fellow committee members held to the highest ethical standards.
“When I hear [Bell] voice her opinion, she had criticism and that’s fine – criticism begets progress. At the end of her statement, she indicated that the plan would be unethical and that worries me. We all worked very hard, we listened, we gathered a lot of information and came up with this plan. The term unethical is not a term to be used lightly and I just think it was inappropriate.
The full legislature will vote on the plan on Wednesday.