Putnam sheriff says Legislature, public, schools don’t need to see it

A$40,000 state grant to Putnam County for police body cameras prompted discussions among members of the Legislature about whether the Sheriff Department’s policy regulating their use should be made public.

The Legislature on Tuesday (March 7) voted 8-0 to accept the funds from the state Department of Criminal Justice Services for the sheriff to lease 20 body cameras for corrections officers and special patrol officers. (Deputies began wearing them in September.) The grant covers the first year of the 44-month contract, with the county responsible for the remainder, which will cost $55,000 to $60,000 per year.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, questioned why the policy that governs the use of the cameras has not been made public, especially after the Legislature in 2020 insisted on and took months to approve a policy about the use by deputies of license-plate readers.

“I don’t understand the logic of the Legislature failing to request the policy,” she said. “When are officers required to turn on the cameras? How long is the data stored for? Other counties have policies.”

(In Dutchess County, the Sheriff’s Department has not yet finalized a policy on body cameras and deputies do not use them, a spokesman said. Beacon police released their policy in 2018 following a Freedom of Information Law request from The Current.)

Montgomery cited the state-mandated Police Policy Comprehensive Review, approved by the Legislature in 2021, that recommended all Sheriff’s Department policies be posted online to “build trust through transparency.”

Legislator Paul Jonke, who represents Southeast and chairs the Legislature, said the sheriff has agreed to discuss the policy with the three members of the Protective Services Committee in a session closed to the public.

Earlier, at a Feb. 23 meeting of the Audit Committee, Sheriff Kevin McConville said the policy regulating body cameras “is very thorough, very fair, and it articulates the law enforcement activity that would be documented when a member of the sheriff’s office is engaging with the public.” He also said there was one item in the policy that the police union had not yet agreed on; he did not elaborate.

During the Feb. 23 meeting, Montgomery suggested that politics may be behind the Legislature’s seeming disinterest in reviewing the body-camera policy and the attention it gave to license-plate readers.

“I guess that was a political reason, because we had a different sheriff and you wanted to make a big deal,” she said. (McConville, a Republican, defeated Robert Langley Jr., a Democrat, in November 2021. Montgomery is the only Democrat on the nine-member Legislature.)

Montgomery also expressed concern about body cameras worn by school resource officers. “Even though the schools have requested this policy, they still don’t have it,” she said.

McConville said his department met with all the superintendents and school boards in the county to discuss the body cameras and “only one school stated that they wanted to see the policy,” he said. But “it’s an operational policy; they’re not entitled to see it.”

At the committee meeting, Jonke described the comparison of body cameras and license-plate readers as “apples and oranges.” He said deployment of license-plate readers was contingent upon the county putting a policy in place, while the body cameras are already in use.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino, from Patterson, who chairs the Protective Services Committee, said the license-plate readers had prompted concern from the police union about abuse of power within the department, such as who has control over seeing the information, who stores it, and the chain of command. However, she said, those concerns are not present with body cameras.

Legislator Joseph Castellano, of Brewster, said that if the union is OK with the body-camera policy, the Legislature doesn’t need to see it.

The Current has filed a FOIL request for the policy.

Holly Crocco contributed reporting.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

A former longtime national magazine editor, Rowe has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Idaho and South Dakota and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. Location: Philipstown. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.