Reform panel floats ideas for county to consider

HUDSON—No-knock warrants, racial disparities, training, and the role of police in the community highlighted the Columbia County Police Reform Panel’s community input video conferences November 5 and 13. The county Board of Supervisors formed the panel to develop a police improvement plan, which the state requires municipalities to adopt by April 1.

No-knock warrants allow law enforcement officers to enter a property without first notifying the residents of their presence. Reasons for such warrants include reducing the time suspects have to destroy evidence or endanger officers.

Joan Hunt, the executive director of Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, and William Hughes, the panel co-chairman, urged the audience to consider the impact such raids can have on children, youth, and the community. “I have seen homes ransacked by the police, and nothing was found,” she said. “I have seen children cry to me that their favorite toy was destroyed.”

Mr. Hughes, Ms. Hunt and Meghan Rhinehart, a social worker from Philmont, called for banning or at least “re-evaluating” no-knock warrants.

But William Vick of Stottville, a retired member of the county sheriff’s office, said that no-knock warrants should be kept, because “It’s a safety factor for everyone involved.”

County Sheriff David Bartlett explained that before “doing a warrant,” his office does a “threat assessment,” which includes asking whether there are likely to be children and/or weapons at the location.

Several speakers reported that law enforcement officers treat people of color unfairly compared to whites. “Columbia County is only about 5% Black, but our Black citizens account for 24% of our arrests,” said Catherine Barufaldi of Ghent.

Laurie Starks-Johnson of Chatham recounted, “As a white woman married to a Black man, I had to explain to my children how to behave with the police. This country is full of people who are rude and discriminate against people who are brown skinned.”

Malcolm Nance of Stockport, who has served in various positions assessing “external threats to the U.S.,” said that when police officers see a civilian with a gun, the first reaction of many officers is that the gun is headed for illegal use if the civilian is Black and justifiable use if the civilian is white.

Jarin Ahmed of Hudson called the tension and distrust between people of color and the police “a public health crisis.… It’s difficult for our faith in the American justice system not to be challenged when we can’t walk down the street, drive down a highway… or even enter our houses without being stopped and killed because of the color of our skin.”

Dave Hall of Ancram said police officers violently stopped and frisked him in New York City because of his Arab ancestry; he also said he’d had “extremely positive dealings with local police.”

Some participants suggested a more “diverse” police force with more Blacks and women.

Police officers undergo thousands of hours of on-going training, said Sheriff Bartlett, including about bias. Nevertheless, several participants recommended police have effective training in mental health issues, diversity, conflict deescalation, and substance abuse.

“A lot of police officers are young white men with little life experience,” Ms. Starks-Johnson said. Some participants recommended training in specific techniques that mental health professionals use to calm somebody down. But Mr. Vick cautioned, “You forget a technique if you use it just once a year.”

Speakers had diverse opinions about the role of police and their relation to the community.

“What is the objective of community law enforcement?” asked Ed Simonsen of Kinderhook. “Who do we have to look for to enforce acceptable behavior?”

Our laws and law enforcement are a reflection of our society’s values, said Ms. Barufaldi. They change as society changes.

“What changes would you law enforcers like to see in law enforcement?” asked Eddie Allen, an actor who has lived in the Chatham area 13 years.

“When I see a police officer and red and blue lights, I feel scared,” said Tismark Bohan, a senior at Ichabod Crane High School. “I know it’s the same for all… people of color in this country.”

There needs to be a “mindset change,” said Mr. Nance. Since 9/11, some law enforcement officials have had a “warrior officer” mindset. “This has led to a loss of trust,” especially because of the actions of “a few police officers.” He said that “the most important thing you can do in your job is to have the trust of the community.”

Robert LaPorte of Claverack said that police are “painted unfairly with a broad brush due to the unacceptable behavior of a few.”

“It is important not to blame rioters,” said Mr. Bohan. “When people get angry, they rarely act rationally.”

A small community police force does not need tanks, rubber bullets and tear gas, said Mr. Hall. But officers should be equipped with body cameras and an ID label, Mr. Simonsen said. And Mr. LaPorte said it is okay to use military equipment in “very grave instances” as another tool for officers who “put their lives on the line.”

Frank van Etten of Ancram said today police appear to face more mental health issues and more weapons on the street.

Some speakers opposed defunding the police. Mr. LaPorte said doing so “is dangerous. It encourages criminals.” Marvin Raidman of Canaan said it would “exacerbate the issues.” He said that funding is needed for police training.

Ms. Rhinehart said the police should not spend so much time on “petty crime.”


‘A lot of police are young white men with little life experience.’

Laurie Starks-Johnson

Chatham


Mr. Allen recommended that police “engage and interact with youth to humanize and make a connection. PowerPoint presentations and lectures are not enough,” he said. Several speakers said deputies should be more visible to people of all ages and families in their community.

Terry Sullivan, who is on the Copake Town Board and the Taconic Hills School Board, said, “Anything we can do to support law enforcement is important.” She praised the Sheriff’s Office for its work at public events and with unexpected traffic from out-of-town.

Ms. Hunt praised Sheriff Bartlett for his cooperation with “enhanced jail visits,” part of the Children of Incarcerated Parents Initiative, where jail inmates have physical contact with their children.

Ms. Sullivan noted the “tremendous relationship” between police and the schools, and Mr. Hall suggested that the good job school resource officers do could serve as a model for other police-community programs. Phyllis Carito of Kinderhook recalled police doing well with “students in crisis” at Columbia-Greene Community College.

Joel Dyslin of Austerlitz said that when he was on the county Board of Supervisors, he experienced police officers who were concerned with job security and wanted to serve and protect the community. “Police budgets are tight, considering the work they have to do and the federal mandates” they must fulfill, he said.

Sheriff Bartlett said that to become a deputy sheriff, all candidates must pass civil service tests and, “We do look into your background.”

Mr. Dyslin said, “We need to weed out” quickly the few candidates with “aggressive personalities” who demonstrate “undesirable characteristics.” Once hired, police need regular evaluations, he said, adding that evaluations can be stressful and recommending, “The best one to do an evaluation is the employee’s supervisor.”

Mr. Hall suggested an independent civilian review board to monitor police activity. Mr. LaPorte also recommended police review boards.

Mr. Simonsen recommended watching police for acts against the environment.

Ms. Sullivan recounted that in 2008 Copake had closed the town Police Department. She called the decision “a hit for the town.”

The next steps will be video conferences of the Elected Official/Law Enforcement Panel, tentatively set for December 2 and 3.

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