Police Reform Plans Released

Putnam, Dutchess focus on body cameras, training 

Putnam and Dutchess counties each released recommendations on Feb. 5 for reforms for their sheriff’s departments under an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The order, issued June 12, requires municipalities to study their police policies and issue reports by April 1 on reforms to, among other goals, “eliminate racial inequities in policing” following the videotaped killing in May 2020 of a Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Beacon and Cold Spring are still working on their plans. 

The 194-page report issued by Putnam County’s Police Policy Review Panel capped a five-month process that began with a meeting in August and involved County Executive MaryEllen Odell, county legislators and police and elected officials, including Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy and Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke. 

The 21-member panel, chaired by Odell, also invited residents to provide input by joining any of nine subgroups to represent the interests of people of color, educators, LGBTQIA+ residents, veterans and other constituent groups. 

The public can read the plan and submit feedback at putnamcountyny.com/policereviewpanel until Wednesday (Feb. 17), when a virtual public hearing is scheduled, and register to speak during the hearing, which will be livestreamed. The full Legislature will consider the plan at its monthly meeting on March 4.

The Putnam panel’s recommendations touch on several areas of concern raised about police forces nationwide: the use of body cameras; how police respond to incidents involving people with mental illnesses; bias and diversity training; and the general lack of diversity among officers. 

In addition to recommending that the Sheriff’s Department rewrite its use-of-force policy to match language in state penal law, Putnam’s panel said the agency should, in the interest of officer safety and transparency, review the costs of equipping deputies with body cameras, although “funding may be an obstacle.” Its patrol cars are already outfitted with dashboard cameras.

The panel also acknowledged that while “it is neither safe nor practical to completely remove law enforcement” from incidents involving people with mental illnesses, deputies should “collaborate, where feasible, with other agencies and mental health professionals” when responding to incidents involving people in crisis. 

In response to the panel’s call for Spanish-speaking deputies, the Sheriff’s Department said it recently gave a civil-service exam in Spanish and plans to recruit at college fairs in Rockland and Westchester counties to reach more bilingual applicants. About 16 percent of Putnam’s residents are Latino. Deputies who don’t speak Spanish use Google Translate and a service called Language Line that they can call for translations, the agency said. 

The department also said it will track the number and types of arrests it makes, and the discharge of firearms, and post the data to its website. 

“I want to thank everyone on the panel for their hard work in putting together such a thorough report in such a short time,” Odell said in a statement. “I am especially grateful for the meaningful feedback we got from the public.”

While Odell praised the citizen input, some recommendations from the subgroups did not make the final list, such as the creation of a court to handle defendants who are veterans, or the establishment of a community panel to review complaints against deputies.

In addition, in an addendum to the report, some subgroup members said that more than two of the nine subgroups should have represented people of color, and that the committees were prevented from reviewing data related to the Sheriff’s Department budget and inventory and had limited access to policies, procedures and other information. The report fails to say which recommendations will be put up for adoption by the Legislature, they said. 

In a statement issued on Tuesday (Feb. 9), members of three subgroups said they were encouraged that Odell agreed to have a permanent, “community-appointed” Public Accountability Committee comprised mostly of people of color, but were pushing to ensure the committee be provided access to materials and involved in decisions on policing issues. 

Dutchess County

Like Putnam, Dutchess County created a panel to “guide the process” and solicit feedback for its report, which was released by Sheriff Butch Anderson. 

The Police Reform and Modernization Collaborative had two committees: one made up of residents, religious leaders, nonprofit leaders, prosecutors, public defenders, educators, elected and government officials and mental-health practitioners, and another of municipal leaders and police chiefs.

The panel also gathered feedback at seven virtual forums in September and October hosted by the Dutchess County Commission on Human Rights. The county said its December report was designed as a guide for municipalities as they develop their reforms.

Among its recommendations were having officers wear body cameras, establishing a civilian review board and expanding the involvement of social workers and other non-police staff in drug overdose and mental health-related calls.

Anderson’s 42-page plan is available at bit.ly/dutchesspolicereform. Comments will be accepted by email at [email protected] through Feb. 26, after which the sheriff will send the plan to the county Legislature. 

In the plan, Anderson noted the Sheriff’s Office was “the first and only local agency in Dutchess County” with an Internal Affairs Bureau to investigate complaints against deputies. He called that and the agency’s accreditation by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services since 1997 “the foundation to not only review what we already do, but to create plans for the future.”

Dutchess already had plans to equip sheriff’s deputies with body cameras; legislators last year approved funding and the sheriff said he is working with local governments and police agencies to make a joint purchase, according to the report. (Beacon officers have worn the devices since 2018.)

Anderson said his department will waive a requirement that officer candidates have 60 college credits to take its police exam in hopes of diversifying its pool. New hires will instead be given five years to complete 60 credits and two years to complete crisis intervention training, according to the report. 

The Sheriff’s Office said it would “explore” the creation of a Civilian Review Board as a “review and advisory committee” to the county’s Criminal Justice Council. It also will begin reporting arrest data by demographics, such as ethnicity and race, and to host meetings so residents can air concerns and ask questions.

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