This page contains the zoom link for the Board of Supervisors police reform public hearing on March 10, 12:45 pm:
Tomorrow (Friday, 3/5), from 10 am- noon, Joyce St. George will be speaking about the police reform debacle again on her WIOX show. Listen here: http://www.wioxradio.org/index.html
Next week there are several town board meetings in the days preceding the board of supervisors meeting. Delhi has a meeting Monday at 7 pm. Bovina has a meeting Tuesday. There may be others. It would be really useful for people to attend these meetings or otherwise advocate to their own town supervisors that they should vote NO on the police reform plan as currently written. It is inadequate, is not collaborative (does not include most of the input from the community member committee members), is essentially a whitewash, rubber-stamp, rehashing of Craig Dumond’s talking points from the first meeting of this group, and absurdly, contains no mention whatsoever of race — which was the entire basis of this process and the Black Lives Matter movement, which spurred it.
Here is the article from The Reporter, for those who don’t have access:
By Lillian Browne
DelCo Police Reform Committee Fractures
DELHI – Municipalities that operate police departments in Delaware County are finalizing draft police reform plans for a public hearing and submission to the state prior to the April 1 deadline, in compliance with the governor’s executive order issued last year. Delaware County, which operates the Sheriff’s Office, released its draft plan on Feb. 24 and scheduled a public hearing on the plan on March 10 at 12:45 p.m., preceding a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Supervisors, at which supervisors are expected to vote on the plan.
Following the release of the draft plan to the full committee on Feb. 22, five committee members – Joyce St. George, Walt Keller, Jen Cutting, Jessica Farrell and Simon Purdy – dissented and sent a letter of concern to the remaining committee members, calling for further revisions. Committee members were presented with the draft plan on Feb. 22 at 10:20 a.m., and given until Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. to make recommendations for changes. Committee members had 40 recommended changes to the draft plan which were not considered, according to the letter sent by the five committee members to the remaining committee members. They challenged Molé saying that no where in the governor’s executive order is the chief executive officer given authority to write the final plan and make decision on its content without the support of those empowered to design it.
“Perhaps even more disappointing, is the final plan itself,” the letter of concern states.
The goal of the committee, from the onset, the letter continues, was to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office has the support it needs to handle current challenges and to build an even stronger relationship with the Delaware County community. “While there are plenty of positives in the plan, there are several shortcomings that make the plan weaker than it needs to be,” the letter states.
Evidence of racial disparities in arrests and conviction data were presented by committee members on Feb. 12 where 50% of survey respondents who reported being arrested or detained were Black/African American and have fear of and experience with racially biased behavior, St. George said. That data never made it into the draft plan, but a discussion of the data should have been included, the letter further stated. The committee as a whole ultimately determined that race does not seem to be a major issue when it comes to the Sheriff’s Office, and it should be something that is addressed because the basis of the governor’s executive order was racial disparities throughout the nation.
Leaving that information out of the plan, puts the plan in danger of being rejected by the state, the letter of concern states.
Another point of contention was the lack of meaningfully addressing substance use disorder/addiction in the plan other than a recommendation to make referrals to the behavior health system. The plan is also mum on why additional mental health programming or a community liaison is needed, or why increased community interaction is needed by the Sheriff’s Office, the letter states. The plan, as presented, conveys an image that the county has no problems and the Sheriff’s Office faces no challenges, the letter continues. “It makes the recommendations that we have all worked on seem like unnecessary afterthoughts. It also appears that our county has no desire, or need, for reform or reinvention (which our community has told us it wants.) If we want to convince the county that we need these changes, and to convince the state that we need funding to makes these changes successful, we need to lay out a case for each one,” the letter continues.
All of the action items were discussed at committee meetings, but they do not appear in the draft plan, the letter of concern states. Further, the letter states, the plan reads like the only audience is the board of supervisors. “It appears that all we were concerned with as a committee was giving the Sheriff’s Office a pat on the back and then making a few recommendations as an afterthought,” the letter continues.
The plan should have justification for suggested programming and recognition of challenges faced by the Sheriff’s Office. If that were done, the letter states, the plan “would feel more grounded as an effort to help our community, as opposed to a formality whose conclusions were set before the committee was ever formed.”
The letter concludes stating the five committee members are not comfortable being identified as people who helped craft the draft plan if further changes are not made. The five members also made demands including an official vote and public listing of votes of all committee members on the draft plan.
Committee and BOS Supervisors Chair Tina Molé declined to further edit or revise the plan, stating via email on Feb. 26 “I am sorry that you misapprehended the role of the committee in the development of the Delaware County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan.”
The email continues: though the dissenting committee members feel like they did not have an opportunity to “approve” the final plan, Molé said that they have had since Nov. 4 to “make a case” for their ideas. Many of the dissenters ideas were adapted in the plan, Molé continued in the email. “However, there is a time when ‘consultation’ with stakeholders must end and the development of the plan must be accomplished. If every time we drafted a ‘final plan’ we had to send it out for ‘approval’ by all stakeholders, with all their differing views, we would never have a final plan,” Molé said, thanking the dissenting committee members for their valuable work on the draft plan.
By Tuesday, March 2, the five dissenting committee members were down to two – St. George and Purdy. Keller, Farrell and Cutting all asked that their names be removed from the letter and the planned work of a proposed minority report to be submitted to the state simultaneous with the full committee plan.
Cutting stated that she “approved the plan presented by Chairman Molé, but told her my reservations. I told her that I wanted more in the plan about mental health and substance use disorder peers. I was happy to see a citizen committee plan was put together by Joyce (St. George) and others and it was included in the plan. I plan to join that committee to fight for more peers in law enforcement.”
When she saw a Daily Star article surrounding the controversy on March 2, she said she was confused by what St. George said the five person committee was objecting to.
“I had to resign from the committee of five because it did not reflect how I feel and how I thought they felt. I told the committee of five this morning that I’m not signing on to their minority report,” Cutting said in an emailed interview with The Reporter on March 2.
Keller resigned from the full committee in response to the conflict.
The 17 member police reform committee (comprised of 11 county employees or individuals who work in county facilities, one member of the business community, one community member and the five members who originally disagreed with the draft plan) was self-tasked with reviewing the policing needs of the community and evaluating the Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures. The community was included in the process, the plan states, by offering two public surveys, and by livestreaming meetings of the committee. Subcommittees met separately from the entire committee, which met four times: on Nov. 4, Dec. 14, Jan. 18 and Feb. 12.
The draft plan recommends implementing mental health training with Chenango Health Network to help police identify mental health disorders, employ de-escalation techniques and educate individuals about resources available in their communities; development of a mental health and addiction network for deputies to refer individuals to mental health counseling; enhanced community outreach by the Sheriff’s Office by creating an anonymous mobile app for individuals to tip off deputies with complaints; conduct coffee with the sheriff events around the county; creation of a law enforcement Explorer program; creation of an instructor evaluation program to supervise police trainings to ensure cultural standards are being adhered to; creation of an open house and history program which allows visitors to tour the Sheriff’s Office and jail facility; the formation of a community liaison committee and continued advocacy for civil service reform for the hiring of police officers.
In multiple interviews, St. George reiterated that the work of the entire committee has been valuable and the entire committee, including those who initially disagreed with the draft plan, strive to support the work of law enforcement. She doesn’t disagree with the presented plan, except that there is not enough information or explanation contained in it, which she believes the state requires.
Data reviewed by the committee shows a disparity in the number of arrests and convictions of Black and brown people between 2016 and 2020, St. George said. The plan should contain some type of statement that the state mandate is predicated on the death of several unarmed Black people who were in police custody, St. George said.
Sheriff Craig DuMond refutes St. George’s data, stating the numbers she cited in committee meetings were based on arrests by every agency in Delaware County, not just the Sheriff’s Office. That data includes all local police departments, the New York State Police and the SUNY University Police. “To attribute these statistics solely to the Sheriff’s Office in misleading at best, false at worst and very irresponsible,” DuMond said of St. George’s statistics.
St. George states that the draft plan also overlooks the fact that Delaware County has one of the highest suicide rates in the state, in addition to the other things that should have been mentioned.
DuMond said the purpose of recommending community outreach was so the community could have a better idea of how things are done at the Sheriff’s Office.
“I thought we agreed as a committee to focus on programs that we could implement as a starting point in the direction of more support for mental health and substance use disorder calls. I thought we were all in agreement that pie-in-the-sky plans were better addressed by a citizen’s committee in the future that could flesh out a realistic plan,” DuMond said of the recommendation for a future citizens committee to act as a liaison between the Sheriff’s Office and the public.
DuMond also had thoughts on the finalization of the draft plan. “I feel hurt and disappointed at the turn of events for this committee. I was excited to have such a diverse group of folks appointed, at my recommendation, and actually thought we had accomplished some very good things. I would like to get the message out to my community that the Sheriff’s Office is here to serve them without bias and with the utmost integrity into the future as it has always done in the past.”
Delaware County, St. George said, appears to be “going through the motions” with the adoption of a reform plan. “We will never know what kind of opportunity has been lost,” she said. Part of her personal struggle with the process, she said, is that she doesn’t see the process or participation in the draft plan as a “one off.” Instead, she said, she sees it as a microcosm. “They can’t stand this governor so they accommodate his mandate to complete a plan, without considering our changing culture and demographics,” St. George said.
“We are fighting for tomorrow’s police department,” St. George said. “They are fighting to keep yesterday’s.”
Police departments need to anticipate and look ahead, she said. “There is no mention of how each of the recommendations are going to be funded,” St. George said in frustration with the report.
DuMond disagrees with much of what St. George asserts, saying the surveys were well-designed and executed, reflecting an overall trust and approval of the Sheriff’s Office.
There have never been any bias complaints, negative public incidents or lawsuits lodged against the Sheriff’s Office or deputies, DuMond said.
Committee member and Delaware County Public Defender Joe Ermeti states that there are racial and bias problems in the county. “It’s a shame that there are problems in this county,” Ermeti said, “But people are not looking in the right direction. The Sheriff’s Department is not the culprit.”
Instead, Ermeti said, problems lie within the district attorney or prosecutors’ offices, who are working – in violation of the law – with judges in criminal cases. He cites a March 1 incident in which his office was assigned to represent a young Black woman arrested by the Delhi Police Department and charged with first-degree burglary. While waiting to be let into a virtual arraignment with the “duty” judge via Skype, the judge and prosecutor decided together, without Ermeti’s presence or involvement, to set $25,000 cash bail, he said. “This is the whole reason defense counsel is supposed to be at the first appearance,” Ermeti said with frustration. “This is an inherent evil that is occurring.”
He refers to the setting of the bail without representation, even though it is a qualifying offense under January’s implementation of bail reform laws, as a “clear violation of the law.”
His client, he said, is sitting in jail on a “BS charge that is extremely weak.”
“In no universe should a defense attorney be precluded from making a bail argument,” Ermeti continued. He did not get to speak on his client’s behalf or to voice his opinion on bail, his said. That’s where problems in the criminal justice system are, he said – in the courts – not with the Sheriff’s Office.
His view of the draft plan process, Ermeti said, was that everything was fine until comments from committee members were cut off.
He feels that the committee has complied with the governor’s directive and that the dissenting committee members have some other good ideas. “Mental health and substance abuse are both major problems in Delaware County,” Ermeti said of the dissenting committee members requests. “And those problems need to be addressed in the future.”
Ermeti is a member of Sidney’s police reform committee and said that people should be careful that they are focused on specific police departments, as it relates to police reform.
The Sheriff’s Department is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the county, Ermeti said, “So they get blamed for things that happen in other departments.” Ermeti said he was not invited to participate in the Walton or Delhi Police Reform Committee, though his office represents individuals who have direct involvement with police officers in those municipalities.
The entire process of drafting a plan has been stressful, St. George said. Many committee members felt betrayed by Molé because of her insistence that she write the report on her own and unilaterally chose what recommendations should go in it.
“We are looking at how we can adapt policing to the demographic and cultural changes in Delaware County – including bias and race relations,” St. George said. “I think what Tina (Molé) is looking at is maintaining the status quo.” The draft plan is an affirmation of what the Sheriff is already doing, St. George said.
The entire argument, St. George said, is over the process. “We feel like we’ve let the community down. We feel like we failed,” St. George said.
The reform plan is vital, she said, because it is tied to the Sheriff’s budget and the county budget. “We want to improve police service. We want to find ways to assist the Sheriff’s Office in getting their jobs done effectively and efficiently, but we’ve been stymied, constrained and minimized,” St. George said.
Committee member Simon Purdy said he was also discouraged because the draft plan does not fully reflect the work done by the committee. However, he said, he is proud of the work the committee did and hopes that the insight it provides demonstrates that the county has some work to do.
Everyone who participated in the plan was hoping to help the Sheriff’s Office obtain the resources it needs to effectively perform its work. “Craig (DuMond) himself said he doesn’t have the resources to handle substance use and mental health issues – but that is not reflected in the plan,” Purdy said.
“The plan reads ‘We are doing fine. We don’t need help.’” Purdy said.
There is a likelihood that if the plan is submitted as written, that it will be rejected by the state, Purdy said. “We do not indicate anywhere in the report why we are making the recommendations that we are making.” There are consequences to submitting a bad plan, Purdy said.
“I didn’t expect this to become political. I expected this to be a collaborative process and hoped to make a difference,” Purdy said. “Nothing changed at all. There was very little reform, very little reinvention and, unfortunately, at the end, very little collaboration,” Purdy said of Delaware County Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative draft plan.
The draft plan can be reviewed on Facebook at the Delaware County Government NY page. The public is invited to comment on the draft plan at the public hearing on March 10 at 12:45 p.m.