Putnam Backs Idea of Police Accountability Committee

Postpones finalization of police review plan 

Putnam County legislators on Tuesday (March 9) expressed support for establishing a police accountability committee and postponed adoption of a draft police review report in order to incorporate material from the sheriff and feedback from residents.

The legislators acted in back-to-back meetings, held by audio connection, of the Protective Services Committee and the full, nine-member Legislature. They had intended to finalize the report but pushed the date to Thursday (March 18).

Following the videotaped killing last year in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered local governments in New York to review their law enforcement policies and compile reports with recommendations by April 1. Putnam’s review panel completed its draft in February.

During the Protective Services Committee meeting, three members of the police review panel’s People of Color Subcommittee urged legislators to establish a public accountability committee to address use of force; racial bias and racial justice in policing; de-escalation training; community outreach; and similar issues. 

Jenie Fu, one of the three, said that “police reform does not take place in two months, nine months. This is long-term, ongoing work and we have members who are committed to see the changes through.”

An accountability committee would offer “an ongoing and legitimate platform” for public review of policing, added Scott Rhodes. “It’s about a community and bringing everybody together. That is our only goal here.” 

“We’re not here for any kind of politics,” Ronald Reid explained. “We’re here to try to push forward” and to provide a venue for those who feel disenfranchised. 

Sheriff Robert Langley Jr., who participated in the Tuesday meetings and serves on the police review panel, said he “looked forward to working with them.” 

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, called an accountability committee “a fantastic idea. Great things happen when you include your citizenry in the process.”

The subcommittees were organized to advise the 22 elected and high-level appointed officials who comprise the police review panel. 

Among other initiatives, the People of Color Subcommittee urged the panel to require sheriff’s deputies to wear body cameras; have a health professional provide assistance in cases involving residents with mental disabilities; increase the number of Spanish-speaking officers; seek applicants for deputy positions among the Asian, Latinx, African-American and LGBTQIA communities; expand outreach to people of color, including teens; and form a civilian complaint review board. 

Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, who chairs the Protective Services Committee, informed the subcommittee representatives that while she backs creation of an accountability committee, “it is not a complaint board, so please do not confuse it with that.” She said legislators would talk further about the accountability committee with the subcommittee members after submission of the review panel report. “You will absolutely have support going forward,” she said. 

During a discussion of the review plan, Nacerino said documents recently provided by the Sheriff’s Department helped clarify its policies. “It would be irresponsible and premature” to finalize the draft without reflecting them, she said.

Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac, a Protective Services Committee member, added that the delay gives residents more time to offer feedback, as well. 

County Attorney Jennifer Bumgarner asserted that had the Sheriff’s Department provided all of its approximately 130 policies early on, the review could have been completed already. 

Montgomery countered that had county officials, at the onset, detailed what was expected of the Sheriff’s Department, confusion could have been avoided. “I’m glad we’re going forward and I hope for a great plan,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, the legislative Personnel Committee approved transfer of $17,544 from one set of jail accounts to another to cover overtime expenses. The action occurred without the extended debates that often ensued in 2020 when the sheriff, who oversees the jail, proposed overtime funding transfers. The committee vote sent the transfer to the full Legislature for ratification.

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