CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers will vote Wednesday night to appoint members to a Police Reform and Reinvention Committee.
The committee follows a state executive order in June requiring all government entities with a police agency to conduct a review of police policy and procedures and develop a plan to improve them in a way that will address the needs of the community.
The goal is to “promote community engagement to foster trust, fairness, legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color,” according to the order.
Community members and other officials named to the community include Catskill Central School District Superintendent Ronel Cook; the Rev. Richard Turpin of Second Baptist Church; Rita Taylor of Hop-o-Nose; Gary Slutzky of Mountaintop Progressives; Greene County Public Defender Angelo Scaturro; Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman; Community Life Church Pastor Rick Snowden; Kate Oldakowski of the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team; Rabbi Zoe B. Zak of Temple Israel; Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione; and Greene County Sheriff’s Office members Sheriff Pete Kusminsky, Undersheriff Adam Brainard, Capt. Tracy Quinn and Lt. Andrew Overbaugh.
Additional officials from the community will be appointed to the committee, according to the resolution.
“As a pastor of the community for the past 20 years, I have a relationship with the people of our village — white, Black, brown, it doesn’t make a difference what color,” Turpin said. “And it’s always good to be part of the biggest room in the house. The biggest room in the house is the room of improvement.”
Turpin sees the committee as an opportunity to look to the future, he said.
“I’m not looking at pointing fingers so much at what was done, but more so pointing fingers at how we can do better, how we can take the mistakes of the past and improve the movement of the future,” he said. “Marching for peace and justice is only half of the change for the future. We have to be able to sit down and look at the facts. And be aware of the past so that we can protect the future.”
Turpin hopes to act as a constant reminder that all people are created equally by God, he said.
“By adding my voice to the reform committee, I feel that as a pastor and as a leader in the community, it will help bring justice to where justice is needed.”
The reform process is important, Cook said.
“I’m looking forward to being part of the Police Reform and Reinvention Committee,” he said. “This process is important because underrepresented community members have an opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Scaturro said he is honored to be a part of the process.
“I’m honored to sit down and discuss it with them so that maybe all people, all perspectives, will be brought to the table,” he said. “This way, everybody is airing their opinion on how to approach things. In the end we’ll protect everyone’s rights and make society a better place to live.”
Scaturro did not identify any specific policy or issue that he believed needed review.
“I feel like we’re doing the right thing here already, for the most part,” he said. “You can always fine tune things.”
Stanzione also was not aware of any specific items in need of review, he said.
“We don’t have the extent of problems we see across [the] country recently,” he said. “Seventy to seventy-five percent of our jail population is white. We don’t have this situation where we’re targeting minorities. Racial profiling is not a common practice [locally].”
These problems may exist in other jurisdictions, Stanzione said.
“I do hear some stories that concern me but I really can’t speak to that,” he said, stating it is out of his jurisdiction. “I do focus on what’s going on in our community. I think our police officers, in my experience, are really top quality. They are truly concerned with serving and protecting the community. That means every community, whether it’s a minority community or a white community.”
Stanzione spoke highly of the local police force.
“The majority are family people who go to work looking forward to the career they endeavored in, and they don’t do it to exercise power or claim how much authority they have. They hope to get home to their family safely at the end of the day.”
A meeting schedule has not yet been set, Kusminsky said Monday.
The committee’s reform plan must address use of force policies, procedural justice; any studies addressing systemic racial bias or racial justice in policing; implicit bias awareness training; de-escalation training and practices; Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs; restorative justice practices; community-based outreach and conflict resolution; problem-oriented policing; hot spots policing; focused deterrence; crime prevention through environmental design; violence prevention and reduction interventions; model policies and guidelines established by the state Municipal Police Training Council; and standards set by the state Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, according to the executive order.
The sheriff’s office was last accredited in 1992. Lawmakers will vote Wednesday night on a contract with Police Management Services LLC. in the amount of $15,000 to work with the office through the accreditation process, including reviewing policies and procedures and making recommendations, in preparation for an on-site accreditation assessment by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Benefits of the accreditation program include a set of professional standards; assurance of fair selection, recruitment and promotion processes; diminished vulnerability to civil lawsuits; enhanced personnel understanding of the department’s policies; greater administrative effectiveness and public confidence in the agency, according to criminaljustice.ny.gov.
The reform plan must be ratified by the county Legislature by April 1, 2021, with certification sent to the state Division of the Budget.
“The director of the Division of the Budget shall be authorized to condition receipt of future appropriated state or federal funds upon filing of such certification for which such local government would otherwise be eligible,” according to the executive order.
In addition to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, local police departments from the villages of Catskill, Athens and Coxsackie, and towns of Cairo, Durham, Windham and Hunter will be approved to serve on the committee, according to the resolution.
The plan for the sheriff’s office will serve as a model for the other local agencies to follow. All agencies will have to submit their individual reform plan to the state. Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden will serve as chairman of the committee, as required by the executive order.