Putnam legislators hit ‘pause’ on proposal
After intense debate on Tuesday (April 20), a Putnam legislative committee pulled back a resolution on establishing a civilian police advisory panel and determined a proposal to sell Sheriff’s Department Marine Unit boats needs more review.
During the nearly three-hour meeting, held by audio connection, efforts to adopt the resolution on the policing panel, an outgrowth of the state-mandated Police Policy Review completed earlier this spring, foundered over issues of its independence and the dismay of members of the People of Color subcommittee, which assisted in the police review process, that county officials had changed their proposal without their knowledge.
The draft resolution said the advisory panel would “work directly with the Sheriff’s Office to share concerns of the public” and “address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color,” as well as to “offer recommendations to the sheriff regarding police policies” and to promote openness, fairness and trust.
“I am so pleased the sheriff will have direct oversight” of the panel, said Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, who chairs the committee. She called his participation the “most effective way for the panel to accomplish their objectives” without involving the Legislature or county executive.
The People of Color subcommittee leaders objected.
One, Ronald Reid, said he and others had believed “this advisory panel was going to be independent. Tonight, we are all very shocked at what’s being said.”
“You certainly will remain independent” but by working with Sheriff Robert Langley can access law enforcement resources “and have him explain the policies,” Nacerino replied. The panel will be “reporting directly to him,” she said, although she later added that “he doesn’t control the group.”
Langley said the “intent is we have a direct dialog” about residents’ concerns, especially among people of color, over “policies that impact them. Obviously, you are an independent panel,” he assured Reid.
Scott Rhodes, who co-chaired the People of Color subcommittee, concurred that they had envisioned the panel, led by residents, as independent of the Sheriff’s Department, Legislature and county executive.
“It’s all bullshit!” he said. “We’re not taking the lead on anything, guys” should the resolution pass. “They had a backdoor meeting with the sheriff and discussed and changed everything,” he added.
“That is really unfair and not true,” Nacerino protested. “I had no meeting with the sheriff.”
Rhodes apologized for using profanity but explained that his group “put a lot of work and effort into this” and “I’m just extremely frustrated right now.” He suggested the committee postpone action, which it did.
“It was a valuable lesson for us,” Nacerino said. “Sorry for the confusion.”
“We just want to get it right, that’s all,” Rhodes replied.
When the committee turned to the issue of selling Marine Unit boats, more arguments followed, fueled by the revelation that the Sheriff’s Department intends to continue patrolling the Hudson River despite the fact the Legislature defunded the unit last fall. There was also uncertainty about whether the county owns the boats.
Capt. Harry Tompkins, who heads the department’s patrol force, said one boat, on loan at no cost from the state, will be deployed on the Hudson for the 2021 season, while another state boat, also a loaner, will provide backup.
“We defunded the Marine Unit,” Nacerino said. “So I’m a little unclear where these vessels will be used when there’s no funding.”
Tompkins said the unit has some money left. “We have the equipment, we maintain it and we have a responsibility to the community and our visitors,” he said.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, warned that levels of Hudson traffic remain unpredictable. “We have defunded public safety in Putnam,” she said. “Let’s not dismantle it now” by decommissioning boats, she said. She praised the Sheriff’s Department “for continuing to provide public safety when you have no funding for it.”
Any sales could be complicated by what Bumgarner described as scanty records on the ownership of several boats.
Langley noted that “we are reimbursed 50 percent by the state for all marine patrols.” He also said that Rockland, Westchester and Orange counties do not patrol the river in Putnam County.
“If there is an incident and the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have a boat, who are people to call?” he asked. Moreover, he said, Putnam has an agreement with the Coast Guard and port security authorities “that we will patrol the river and do security checks.” He added that the Department of Homeland Security counts “the Bear Mountain Bridge” among the Mid-Hudson’s “soft targets for terrorists. Who’s going to address these issues?” he asked the committee.
Given the unresolved questions, Nacerino opted to “continue the conversation” in coming weeks.