CATSKILL — The Greene County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative released its recommendations for the sheriff’s office Tuesday.
Recommendations include increased recruiting efforts, upgrading the department’s records management system, body cameras and a Community Advocate Committee to review complaints.
The collaborative was formed in August in response to a state executive order in June requiring all municipalities with a police agency to conduct a review of policies and procedures and develop a plan to improve them in a way that will address the needs of the community.
The report developed by the collaborative pertains to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. The seven other municipalities with a police force in the county are required to develop their own reform plans.
The reform plan must be ratified by the Greene County Legislature by April 1, with certification sent to the state Division of the Budget or the county will risk losing state funding.
The group held 10 meetings, three of which were open to the public and tackled various topics such as how officers respond to mental health or substance abuse calls, how the sheriff’s office works with other agencies in the community, and use of force and bias training. Input from other police agencies, community organizations and members of the public was considered.
“The draft report will be presented to the Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, March 3,” said Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden, who chairs the collaborative. “A special meeting will be held at the Greene County Office Building on March 10, where the full Legislature will meet with the Police Reform and Reinvention Committee via Zoom to review the report and its recommendations.”
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, thanked the collaborative members for their efforts.
“This was not an easy task,” Linger said. “The time limitations and COVID restraints were complicated further by the fact that approximately 40% of all law enforcement calls within Greene County are responded to by the New York State Police, who are not required to be involved in this effort. This effort has been highly important to Greene County, as we can take pride in the fact that the Greene County Sheriff’s Office serves and protects our communities with the highest levels of integrity and transparency.”
Greene County Sheriff Peter Kusminsky said he is looking forward to establishing more positive relationships between the community and the department.
“I view the process of this Reform and Reinvention as a building block to create more paths of open communication with all parts of the community we serve,” Kusminsky said. “I am looking forward to making even further connections and relationships throughout our county. No one should be afraid of the police and I stand ready to reach out to those who may not have had a voice before. When individuals are treated in just ways by law enforcement, it increases their trust in police and investment in the laws of the community, even if the outcome is not in their favor.”
“The most important thing the committee learned was that there were no citizen complaints related to racial or gender bias, use of force or mistreatment of any civilian against the Greene County Sheriff’s Office,” Linger said.
In the 23-page report with over 700 pages of appendices, no citizen complaints related to racial or gender bias were documented. The department has not had a complaint regarding use of force in more than a decade, according to the report, and no officer in the agency has fired a weapon at a person in more than 50 years.
The report mentions 11 disciplinary actions that have occurred within the past five years. Nine of the incidents originated internally, according to the report, and two were complaints made by citizens. Nine of the incidents resulted in disciplinary action and two were referred to an outside agency. The nature of the incidents and the type of discipline carried out was not listed.
“The committee determined that any publication of discipline reports was unnecessary due to both the low occurrence of incidents requiring disciplinary actions and the public’s ability to obtain any such report through a Freedom of Information Law request,” according to the report.
All officers are required to report use of force incidents and the reports are reviewed by command staff. Use of force incidents are also reported to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, and officers are required to intercede and report when use of force by another officer has “exceeded beyond objectively reasonable standards,” according to the report.
Citizens can make complaints through the Greene County Sheriff’s Office website and the department’s mobile application.
The collaborative recommended a three-person Community Advocate Committee be formed to handle citizen complaints regarding the sheriff’s office. The committee will include one member of the Legislature and two citizens: one from a faith-based organization and one leading community outreach. The committee will be comprised of at least one person of color. Complaints will be submitted to the committee anonymously through a form on the county website.
“This process will minimize any perceived fear of retaliation that may exist with some citizens,” according to the report.
The collaborative also recommended the Legislature examine the cost of implementing body cameras.
“While the data collected and reviewed by the committee did not rise to the level of justified concern, the use of body cameras can be a proactive forward approach to ensure openness and transparency as an objective documentation of events and encounters,” according to the report.
To fit the department with body cameras is a $400,000 to $600,000 investment, according to the report.
Greene County’s population is 89.8% white, 6.3% Hispanic, 6.1% Black, 0.5% Native American and 1.3% Asian, according to the 2019 American Community Survey. About 12.6% of the population was below the poverty line. The state Division of Criminal Justice Services collects demographic data for arrests that require fingerprinting. Law enforcement agencies in Greene County arrested 944 white suspects, 146 Blacks, 87 Hispanics and six Asians, according to DCJS. Race was unknown in 20 of the arrests.
While the sheriff’s office does collect demographic information, its records management system does not provide any sort of breakdown of arrests by race or gender, and every police report would have to be read to generate data on this criteria, according to the report. The collaborative recommended the records management system be upgraded and suggested that the state make funding available for the endeavor.
The sheriff’s office is comprised of 18 deputies, six sergeants, three investigators, Lt. Andrew Overbaugh, Capt. Tracey Quinn, Undersheriff Adam Brainard and Sheriff Pete Kusminsky. Of the 27 road patrol personnel, five are women, one is Hispanic and one is Black.
To increase diversity within the department, the collaborative recommended recruiting efforts take place at job fairs, social media, schools, community gathering places and in minority neighborhoods, and that the department provide guidance and support to prospective applicants.
During 2020, the department completed more than 40 hours of training in a variety of topics including anti-bias training, de-escalation training, harassment training and use of force training, according to the report.
The sheriff’s office has passed all requirements from the New York State Law Enforcement Agency Council and is waiting for official accreditation. By becoming an accredited agency, the sheriff’s office will abide by the council’s administrative, training and operations standards. The office was last accredited in 1992. Catskill Police Department is the only other accredited agency in the county.
The department is developing a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program in collaboration with the District Attorney and Public Defender’s office.
Residents can view the reform report and submit questions at https://www.greenegovernment.com/greene-county-police-policy-review-committee/contact-the-greene-county-police-policy-review-committee
All questions from the public will be provided to the Legislature.
The March 10 meeting is open to the public but space is limited. Those who wish to attend the meeting in person should call 518-719-3270 to reserve a space. Residents will be called into the legislative chambers as space becomes available. Those attending the meeting in person are required to wear face masks.