CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers opened the floor Wednesday for public comment on the police reform plan and recommendations for the sheriff’s office.
The plan was released last week and included 25 recommendations. Upgrading the department’s record management system, implementing body cameras and establishing a Community Advocate Committee to review complaints were among the recommendations.
Tannersville resident Stephen Nash Webber listed several recommendations he said should have been included in the report, such as requiring officers to distribute cards with their names, badge numbers and where to direct complaints during every interaction.
“We have seen issues with this committee’s ability to gather feedback,” he said. “There no better way of getting good data and feedback from the community on police interactions than that.”
Jewett resident Elide Bell also expressed concerns about the feedback gathered by the committee.
Members of the community did meet with members of the public to get input, committee member and Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman said.
“Kai [Hillmann], Katie [Oldakowski] and myself did have a meeting with folks from the Black community to try and get some feedback from them,” he said. “There is a lot of reticence in that community to speak even in an environment that didn’t include government officials or police officers. We got a lot of good feedback.”
Bell questioned where the feedback was.
“If those meetings took place with the community and their testimonials or feedback, where is it?” she said. “Why can’t we see the feedback, what was the feedback and how was that incorporated in the report? That’s part of the transparency process.”
Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said the meeting was not an official public meeting of the committee.
“A lot of people don’t want to go on the record, they don’t want their names out there,” he said. “The committee did what they needed to do [to get feedback].”
The Rev. Richard Turpin, who serves on the committee, said the pandemic also made it harder to get input.
“To really try to get someone to come out during a COVID-19 pandemic, I think we had numbers,” he said.
In terms of public input, Cairo resident Monica Kenny-Keff added that people cannot be forced to participate.
“You can’t force people to come,” she said. “You can’t force people to be engaged.”
The same sentiment is true in terms of getting more diverse job applicants, Kenny-Keff said.
“You can’t grab people off the street and force them to apply,” she said.
Nash-Webber suggested the establishment of a targeted mentorship program, which would help individuals from disadvantaged populations that are interested in serving on the force.
While increased recruiting and outreach efforts were among the recommendations, there are limitations, Kenny-Keff said.
“We’re in a pandemic, there’s a hiring freeze, you can only do so much,” she said.
Nash-Webber expressed concern over the lack of budgetary information in the report.
“There is no handling in this report as to the budget of the sheriff’s office, the staffing level of this office and how they are the appropriate size for our community,” he said. “There is very little ability to evaluate that we are at correct staffing levels and we are not overpoliced or underpoliced and I feel that is a substantial deficit.”
Greene County adopted its $112 million budget in November, with $4.9 million slated for the sheriff’s office.
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.
“Many of the objections we just heard about were items that could not be dealt with in the limited scope of this community,” Kenny-Keff said. “There were many items that could not be accessible to these committee members. The budget was not something that this community or the sheriff’s office has any control over.”
Despite the April 1 deadline when the county has to submit the plan to the state, the dialouge will be ongoing, Kenny-Keff said.
“I don’t believe we are done here,” she said. “I don’t think the sheriff believes we’re done here. This is a continuing conversation.”
Legislator Patricia Handel, R-Durham, agreed.
“In the essence of time and the governor’s threatening, like he likes to do, this can be put on his desk but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any more change in Greene County, this is it, it’s written in stone and that’s the end of it,” she said.
Rabbi Zoe B. Zak agreed there is always room for improvement.
“There’s always more,” she said. “There’s always more room to lean, always more space to grow, always deeper connections to be made and always greater support to give,” she said. “I just want to say to the people that are worried is this the end or did we address everything, I don’t think we could have addressed everything. I don’t say this in a defensive way. We tried to address what the governor had asked us. There are so many other aspects that one can discuss.”
Having an open line of communication between law enforcement and the community is key, Kenny-Keff said.
“There are certain things I’m never going to know about being a police officer or a deputy, that’s why I have to listen,” she said. “And there are certain thing a sheriff or a deputy will never know about being pulled over or having an interaction with police, that’s why they need to be able to listen.”
The full Legislature will vote on the plan March 17.