HUDSON — Columbia County held its third police reform panel meeting to consider changes the community wants to see in the county sheriff’s office.
The final 10 panelists spoke Friday at the meeting.
“Collaborative is a key word,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell. “It would be a mistake to frame this discussion as adversary process or an effort to impose top-down extension. Issues must be aired, but solutions must be crafted. The collaborative process should review the needs of the community by police agency and evaluate the department’s current policies and procedures.”
Panelists were given five minutes each to share their thoughts and suggestions about police reform. Some recurring subjects raised at the meeting included increased police training and a need for more police accountability, and the role race plays in the community’s level of trust in law enforcement.
“The tension and distrust between people of color and the police in the United States is a public health crisis,” said panelist Jarin Ahmed, of Hudson. “It’s difficult for us to put our faith in the American justice system not to be challenged when we can’t walk down the street, drive down a highway, go to an airport or even enter our own homes without being stopped or killed because of the color of our skin.”
Ahmed noted local- and national-level incidents she believes have put a strain on relationships between the public and law enforcement. Ahmed suggested the county look at bias and diversity training for law-enforcement officers to improve these issues.
“Law-enforcement officers are here to serve the community and we need to move back, perhaps through some level of training, and hopefully we don’t have to legislate it, to get people to understand that their mindset should be they are here to serve the community,” said panelist and author Malcolm Nance, “even though at times there may be points where incidents escalate into violence. This has led to a loss of trust and that is the most important thing that you can do in your day-to-day job, is to have the trust of the community.”
Several of the national-level issues involving race can impact the overall trust a community has in its law enforcement, Nance said.
In each of the three meetings of the police reform panel, participants have spoken about the need for improved training.
“The first issue for me is training,” said panelist Phyllis Granat, of Hillsdale. “Improved and updated training should be a major component of any plan. But this is tied to budgeting and scheduling, and that is the elephant in the room. There has been no budget increase for the last three years and most deputies have only the most basic academy training, and received little in dealing with domestic or quality-of-life issues.”
Recent increases in property sales and home-improvement projects leading to a potentially larger tax base and budget could allocate funding for increased training, Granet said.
The ideas generated by community members at the three meetings will be reviewed by another panel made up of elected and law-enforcement officials, who will begin to draft policies and possible changes for the sheriff’s department. Those ideas will go to a plan review committee for discussion. The county will then hold a public hearing about the proposed changes.
The county Board of Supervisors will discuss and adopt any policies that come out of the process.
The law enforcement and public officials panel will meet 6 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. The meetings will be live streamed on YouTube.
Municipalities statewide are required to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021, or face the potential loss of state funding, according to an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June.
The state Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative created a guide for public officials and citizens to review the policies and practices of law-enforcement agencies such as the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
State guidance outlines four areas that will be looked at by the committee: the function of police agencies; how to employ smart and effective policing standards and strategies; fostering community-oriented leadership, culture and accountability; and recruiting and supporting personnel.