In the Feb. 26 issue, you reported on a Feb. 18 meeting of the Putnam County Legislature’s Protective Services Committee in which its members put forth a number of inaccuracies and some blatant fictions (Putnam Says Sheriff Not Cooperating with Review). These statements were an obvious attempt to shift responsibility for the poor management of the police review process from County Executive MaryEllen Odell and her panel of elected officials to the Sheriff’s Department.
Legislators Neal Sullivan, Ginny Nacerino and Amy Sayegh claimed that Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. had not provided them with updated policies or otherwise been cooperative. However, the county executive is supposed to first submit a plan recommending changes to the sheriff. The draft plan has not been finalized or vetted by the public, so it is confusing that the legislators are asking the sheriff to produce updated policies. We don’t even know which recommendations the panel is asking him to make. The review panel held a single meeting to hear public comment and the Legislature still has to review the final plan and allow more public comment.
The Feb. 18 meeting made it clear that the three legislators on the Protective Services Committee — each of whom is also a member of the police review panel — do not understand the governor’s executive order. It requires that the chief executive of the county direct the process, and yet Odell has been absent from nearly every meeting and activities related to police reform. We know this because many of our members have participated as subcommittee members. As the person mandated to lead the process, Odell’s priority should have been to obtain all of the sheriff’s policies and then to provide them to the panel members — this never happened, making it impossible to conduct a “comprehensive review.” Why was this not a priority for Odell?
However, as the Draft Reform Plan explains, while public stakeholder members of the panel were not allowed to review the policies, supposedly because of restrictions imposed by state law, the other members of the panel, including Sullivan, Nacerino and Sayegh, have reviewed the sheriff’s policies. This conflicts with their statements on Feb. 18 that the sheriff refused to provide them.
Notably, in a column he wrote for Southeast-Brewster Patch on Aug. 26, Sullivan stated that “Sheriff Langley can review as many policies as he would like” but “such a review has been rendered moot” by the governor’s order, which Sullivan said “vests the Legislature with the authority to adopt the revised policies and procedures. It will then be incumbent upon the Sheriff’s Department to comply with and adhere to those policies.”
Clearly, Sullivan last year believed the sheriff had no authority to change the policies. It is difficult to square that with Sullivan’s statement on Feb. 18 to Langley that “these are your policies. We need an action plan.”
The police reform process in Putnam has been poorly run and obstructive to participation from disenfranchised residents such as Latinx, Black, Indigenous and people of color. It was only six months into the process before the county-level members of the panel began working with the community. Odell had a chance to partner with the sheriff to create real change, but she has barely been involved, instead delegating her responsibility to an unelected deputy. She and her friends on the Legislature are now attempting to create a false narrative strictly to prop up their preferred candidate for sheriff.
Eileen McDermott, Brewster
McDermott is a member of Putnam Progressives and serves on the LGBTQIA subcommittee of the police review panel.