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Sullivan County Public Hearing On Police Reform Plan Draws Supporters And Critics

Resident delivers comments during Sullivan County public hearing on draft police reform plan, March 26, 2021
Courtesy of Sullivan County government/screenshot by WAMC, Allison Dunne
Resident delivers comments during Sullivan County public hearing on draft police reform plan, March 26, 2021

A committee of the Sullivan County legislature held a public hearing Friday on the county’s draft police reform report. There is a second public hearing Tuesday morning, two days before plans are due to the state.

Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York state Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, final reports are due to the state April 1st. Fifteen speakers weighed in with their input during the Sullivan County Public Safety & Law Enforcement Committee’s public comment session Friday on the county’s draft report on police reforms. Some, such as Jim Steinberg, a lifelong Forestburgh resident and volunteer firefighter, say the legislature should adopt the plan as is.

“And being a volunteer fireman in our community, I have the utmost respect for the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department and all other police agencies. They treat everyone the same no matter what the situation is,” Steinberg says. “I have read the proposal, the proposed police reform plan and I support it 100 percent as written.”

Elaine Williams says there was limited public outreach and it was not well publicized.

“There’s nothing in that report, nothing, that speaks anything toward people of color,” Williams says. “I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think it’s correct.”

Other critics, like Catherine Scott, also lambasted a survey they say not only included few residents but also contained personally identifiable information that is now public.

“I think the whole process all the way around was really problematic. I think that you guys need more time to review this. I think doing this on March 26 when you got an April, it’s not enough time. It doesn’t seem like it was taken seriously,” Scott says. “Personally, I’m calling it the lack of reform plan. I think Sullivan County can do better.”

Scott pointed to a lockdown incident in her praise of police response, but said, in general, one can always do better and says the draft plan was that opportunity. Governor Cuomo’s mandate, known as Executive Order 203, requires local police agencies to modernize their strategies and programs based on community input with state funding at risk. Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty:

“We began this process in July, travelling around the county, engaging the community and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. We met with community groups, business owners, faith-based organizations and elected officials,” Chaboty says. “In order to try to included as many people as possible, we followed up with a survey and then three formal meetings in person and via Zoom with community stakeholders.”

Dayna Halprin says the draft plan lacks true reform. She delivered her comments on behalf of the Committee for Equity & Justice — a subcommittee of Sullivan Allies Leading Together, or SALT — and the Sullivan County NAACP.

“While we commend you for including a commitment to community policing, working with mental health professionals, de-escalation training, accessible complaint forms, increasing diversity within the hiring process and working towards accreditation, there are many items that your reform plan is missing, most notably, working with the public to establish both a civilian oversight committee and a community advisory board, implicit bias and cultural competency training, an updated anti-discrimination policy, increased transparency of training curriculum and data of demographics for arrest, a comprehensive code of conduct for officers, an annual mental health evaluation and review for every officer and a commitment to an annual survey and review of the sheriff’s department,” Halprin says.

She says if there are no sufficient changes to the draft plan, SALT, the county NAACP and others want their names removed from the document. Joanne Gerow says the sheriff’s office has a good relationship with the community.

“The plan is specifically tailored to our sheriff’s office and Sullivan County and is a realistic answer to maintain and enhance the good relationship the sheriff’s office shares with our community,” Gerow says. “I understand that some people are upset that the plan does not include item that are found in other reform plans in other municipalities. However, it is logical that the Sullivan County police reform plan should address those issues that have been identified as being pertinent to our county, not what’s going on in Kingston, New York City or Oregon.”

She urged the legislature to adopt the plan as is. Activist Sandra Oxford wonders how her name is listed in the draft report she condemns.

“Take my name off of this,” Oxford says. “I’d rather have my name in the police blotter than in this document.”

The second public hearing is 8:30 Tuesday morning.

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