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.

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(7) comments

scottmyers

The draft police review report is feckless. You must authorize a paid civilian review board with power.

The main problem is we spend far too much on police and not adequately for professional assessment and treatment. Police aren’t capable of counseling; they lack the education. Professional counseling isn’t intuitive, it requires a license and supervision. For instance, a Master of Social Work (“MSW”) requires 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. We don’t have any MSW on staff.

The glossy report is completely inconsistent with our history. The pathetic quality of local law enforcement is proven by the “worst offender” rating from the State Commission of Corrections. I had to remove Sheriff Richard Hussey, Sheriff Greg Seeley (an “Oath Keeper”), his cousin Vincent Seeley, and close our jail.

You forced through a new $90 million debt obligation for human cages (64 cages cost $1,406,250 each) knowing the adjoining county jails are 85% empty. None of the construction crews are from Greene County, none of the $16 million in interest stays in Greene County. County Treasurer Peter Markou took $8 million from “reserves” but needs $42 to $110 million to cover employee health care and retirement. He doesn’t have it. Central Hudson’s Out of Alignment shows a declining per-capita and population. No model shows a positive trend.

During the campaign for Sheriff Pete Kusminsky committed to Civilian Review Board. This is useless if they’re volunteer and have no independent authority. When I proposed a standing Alternatives To Incarceration Committee (“ATI”) Shaun Groden blew a fuse. He wrote to Hon. Lisa Fisher, who rebuffed him.

Then there’s the issue of the Village of Catskill Police. I favor eliminating the village police altogether. The Village of Catskill Police is far too large. Twenty-four officers for a village this small and with such a low crime level is way out of whack. The Village of Catskill Police budget is way out of proportion. Their $1.7 million expense is nearly half of the Village’s yearly $4 million budget is entirely disproportionate with our low crime. Numbers. Our low crime statistics are not a result of a bloated CPD.

We don’t have the money. The acute proof is the debt.

Finally, the new jail was never justified. Justice and bail reform mean there’s almost no one in county jails anymore. Ulster, Columbia, and Albany County jails are 85% empty.

I’m asking the county to convert the new jail into a legitimate medical treatment facility that’s not under the control of the Sheriff or SCOC. As such we’re eligible for significant federal, state, and Opioid settlement funds. As a county jail we are not eligible for such funds.

Greene County was in very bad financial shape before COVID-19. Our main income is tourism. Tourism and COVID-19 are mutually incompatible.

Authorize an authoritative paid civilian review board. Start to convert the jail in Coxsackie to a legitimate medical facility, not under the control of the Sheriff or SCOC, forget about building a Gulag for our homeless, and otherwise start using qualified social workers and medical staff not police.

Very truly yours,

Scott Myers

39 West Bridge Street

Catskill, NY 12414

(518) 291-8169

C.c. Peter Kusminsky, Greene County Sheriff

David Darling, Village of Catskill Police Department

Members of the Sheriff Review Committee

Members of the press and public

Catskills MaMa

As I was quoted in this article, I would like to address some points.

"The committee tried real hard and worked really hard" - I don't doubt that they feel this way and appreciate the attempt. But ignoring the calls to improve this process to avoid the exact situation we are in right now is not ok. They are trying real hard to do what they were assigned - Well I'm trying real hard to protect our community and ensure a fair shake in the process. *I formally, again, invited the committee to join me in a conversation in writing and at this meeting - still no response. crickets.

Placating by saying "this conversation will continue" is not good enough. Formalize it in the recommendation. Formalize the committee and meeting structure. My recommendations were: I am requesting that a public meeting be set within the next week to discuss amendments and recommendations that should be included in this draft such as:

*Additional de escalation training

*Bias training by a community approved source that is in-person and not a computer program

*The standard public yearly release of complaints and disciplinary actions of Greene County police officers including standard practices of evaluating moral character on and off duty as well as on social media.

*The furnishing of a business card at every interaction that states the officers badge number, department and where to submit complaints to a neutral civilian review board

*The adoption of Campaign Zero’s Use of Force Policy

The beginning of the plan should also be amended to clearly state the known deficiencies of this process, and for the county to formally adopt to do this exercise over for delivery prior to the next budget allocations.

Regarding engagement of the community - no, you can't force people to participate. However, you can't expect people to participate if they don't know where or how to do so or creating unsafe environments. Posting information to a website on a difficult to find/navigate webpage without full information is already not great - but also if the majority of folks didn't even know to look there in the first place then that is problematic. The committee acknowledges we are in a pandemic and says it deters people from "showing up" - NO OPTION for safe video conferencing and participation was given despite multiple calls from the start. In person meetings were held all on the same side of the county and people were not wearing masks. Even the meeting spoken of in this article, there were attendees in the legislature and an officer not wearing a mask. How is this acceptable? How can you possibly expect people to show up, especially in the BIPOC community that are already at higher risk for covid? Furthermore - yes, there are folks in the BIPOC community that are hesitant to speak up but there are plenty of folks that are willing to put themselves out there and speak out. Organizers and participants, local groups that have been engaged, involved and public about Black Lives Matter in our county and area were not contacted to help engage the community and to bring important voices into this conversation. The committee and Greene County legislature also didn't seem to think it was a good idea to reach out to local town boards so that they could help spread the word more hyper locally.

Video conferencing - I adamantly reject the idea that this wasn't an option because of zoom bombing. There are a number of ways to avoid this from happening when the tool is used correctly. Education and help has been offered and rejected.

The committee mentioned "a lot of feedback" that they received privately from the Black community. I am not suggesting they should give us names or identifying information or complete personal statements. But how about - how many people did you talk to? What questions did you ask? What was learned? and How was it incorporated into the draft? Speaking with Black folks in our community is valid and necessary and important. ***But what about important voices from Latinx, Asian and immigrant folks in our community?***

Scope of the committee and community discussion - DO NOT be mistaken in thinking budget, staffing, equipment and so on was not in scope of this discussion. In fact - on page 19 of the governor's workbook it states just that. The committee obviously can't directly change or allocate the budget - but they certainly can make recommendations to the legislature based on community feedback.

This exercise wasn't just to analyze if the county police are "doing a good job" - we are here to discuss if the current framework is how our community wants to continue to be policed and what that would look like.

Regarding complaints & disciplinary records - I have been unable to receive this documentation despite multiple attempts. I will continue to do so. I want, and the community deserves, a formal record of this. The committee continues to frame this as there are no "race based complaints" and that an officer has not fired a weapon in a number of years - To be clear, I am seeking a record of all complaints and disciplinary records as this may show a pattern of misconduct or indicate how the moral character of officers is being evaluated and handled. We all know that speaking to firing a weapon dismisses all other use of force.

*Despite being told previously that no complaints have been received - So far from what has been mentioned in the committee meeting minutes and a previous article from this publication - there have been at least 11 complaints and a use of force case 7 years ago. We want formal documentation on these.

***I'm also not so naive as to think that there is a possibility that complaints may have bypassed this reporting structure all together and have gone straight to litigation.

[wink]

scottmyers

The main problems is we’re spending disproportionately for police. The demolition of our sheriff’s office at 80 Bridge lost $6 million in value, nothing was wrong with the building. Now it’s a non-income producing parking lot. The demolition was needed to get a “technical” exception to our 2% tax cap laws. The $90 million new debt obligation is a 20% increase.

Without an authoritative civilian review board the reforms are meaningless. Looking over the reforms shows nothing substantive anyway. Recall, we’re coming from worst place. We’re rated a “worst offender” by the supervisory State Commission of Corrections. The report, so far, is a white wash.

Police are NOT mental or health professionals. They are not rehab oriented, including so called “corrections officers.” Armed police are not needed or belong in our schools, I’ speaking about so “resource officers.”

The spending needs to go from police to legitimate Medical’s professionals, licensed. This applies to the staff at Greene County DSS, who apparently lacks even one licensed social worker (someone with a asters in Social Work, MSW). Greene County Mental Health similarly, needs to begin to provide actual diagnosis, and then actual appropriate treatment. As is, they tend not to diagnose. I asked their Clinical Director Jason Fredenberg, Psy.D., why he doesn’t diagnose. He said that if they did they’d have to treat. That’s his comment under oath at a trial I managed.

Then there’s the Gulags planned for Coxsackie, homeless shelters. Nothing is more insensitive, nothing more certainly avoids the obligation to aid not har people in our social safety net.

Finally, there are important reasons to eliminate the Village of Catskill Police altogether. The 24 officers are expensive. Most are Oath Keepers, as was former Sheriff Greg Seeley. This is the group responsible for the insurrection in Washington recently.

Neither the GCSD or the CPD have legitimate author active civilian review boards. The draft report allows for a voluntary civilian review, but it has no power.

So, the review didn’t even scratch the surface of the huge overhaul that’s required. It’s not my opinion, read the “worst offender” report from SCOC. Read the 5 years of correspondence between County Attorney Ed Kaplan and SCOC. Read the Daily Mail articles describing suicides at our jail, and how Greg Seeley wasn’t interested in SCOC’s opinion.

ScottMeyers

I take offense to not being interviewed for this article considering all my work in this field.

Guess you're all just mad that I'm woke and you're not.

Rory VanDeusen

And why were you not interviewed? I know! [ban]

scottmyers

That’s not me. But I am commenting here.

ScottMeyers

You're not me! Who are you?!?! Imposter!!!!

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