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Committee proposes independence for group
Establishment of a police policy advisory board advanced in Putnam County on Tuesday (May 18) when a legislative committee granted it more freedom than previously proposed and nominated its first board members.
Unanimous approval of the Protective Services Committee sent the resolution creating the board to the full Legislature for action in June.
One nominee, Scott Rhodes, said the board’s mission “is to support the equity and safety of all Putnam County residents by advocating police policy changes. We’ve envisioned a county where all feel included, protected, and fairly treated by law enforcement.”
The board grew out of the New York State-mandated police policy review process and suggestions from the People of Color Committee of residents assisting in that review.
The Protective Service Committee resolution defines the advisory group’s role as striving “to share concerns of the public; ensure transparency through the free flow of information; promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness and legitimacy; address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color; and offer recommendations to the sheriff regarding police policies and procedures.”
In April, the Protective Service Committee’s first attempt foundered after Legislator Ginny Nacerino, its chair, said that Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. would have “direct oversight” of the group, including choosing its members, although it would “remain independent.”
Rhodes and others protested and the three legislators on the Protective Services Committee agreed to rethink their approach.
Last month “there were some profound misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Nacerino said at Tuesday’s meeting, held by audio connection. “Perhaps we were a bit overly zealous” in acting so quickly. But, she added, “I’m elated to move forward. This is a defining moment in Putnam County.”
The resolution awaiting final approval says the nine-member Legislature will name the advisory group members, drawn from participants in the police review process, and that those individuals will elect a chair or co-chairs; stipulates that while the group will work with Langley, “the sheriff shall exercise no control over the officers, membership or business conducted”; and changes its name to the Community Engagement and Police Advisory Board.
“What a great name and what a monumental and epic time for Putnam County,” Rhodes said after the vote. He said he and his colleagues “understand that the making of policy changes is an ongoing and evolving process.”
As outlined in the resolution, the advisory board will be relatively short-lived, about 18 months, shutting down on Dec. 31, 2022. However, the resolution also permits its members to ask the Legislature to extend its tenure. In essence, Nacerino said, the board can “continue as long as they wish. I want to make that perfectly clear.”
Along with Rhodes, as board members the Protective Services Committee chose Ronald Reid, Jenie Fu, Matinah Drew and Dennis Cohen.
Reid expressed gratitude to county officials as well as LGBTQ and Black activists and lauded legislators “for being patient and allowing us to express some of the sentiments that are coming from the community.”
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown, observed that “the level of tension and anxiety in this country” regarding police-community relations “is at an all-time high.” In Putnam, “formation of this board will go a long way” in strengthening bonds and unity, she said. “Policing is most effective when government, community members, and police collaborate and share in the responsibility of public safety.”