CHATHAM—The Village Board held an online public hearing on the Village of Chatham Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative’s “Findings and Recommendations” draft plan February 16. About 19 people attended the virtual meeting and three members of the public commented. One person emailed questions to Village Mayor John Howe, who presented them to the collaborative to answer.
In June of 2020, Governor Cuomo signed the “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative,” an executive order requiring local police agencies to develop a plan “that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force,” according to a press release from the state.
Police forces must adopt a plan by April 1 to be eligible for future state funding.
Philmont and Chatham are the only villages in the county that have their own police forces. Philmont, the towns of Greenport and Stockport, along with the county Sheriff’s Office are part of the review by a county panel. The City of Hudson also has a police reform committee.
The county plans to have a public hearing on its report March 8 and have the full Board of Supervisors vote on it March 10.
Information on Hudson’s Police Reconciliation & Advisory Commission is at cityofhudson.org
For the Village of Chatham’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, Mayor Howe appointed members last fall to work on a plan for the part-time village police force. The collaborative members are village residents Iris Waddell (co-chair), Gary Gelfenbien (co-chair), Adrienne Morrell, Michael Richardson, Lisa Light Rugen, Katherine Stoessel, Jaimee Boehme (village trustee) and Pete Minahan (village trustee) with Chatham Police Assistant Chief Joseph Alessi and Chatham Police Officer John Myers.
A 55 page draft is on the village website at villageofchatham.com .
“Tonight is not the end of the process,” said Mayor Howe at the public hearing in February. He stressed that this was just the beginning and said that the collaborative’s Findings and Recommendations draft is a “living document.” The plan has details on the police budget, hours of service, village and police demographics, 911 calls, and police events, as well as policing procedures and practices.
The collaborative held focus groups with the community while creating the plan. The groups included seniors, the substance use affected community, and local businesses. The draft says that “efforts were unsuccessful in organizing focus groups from the African-American community, Latina/o community, or from youths. To solicit broader community input, the collaborative distributed an online questionnaire to residents and business owners”; 175 people responded to the questionnaire.
At the public hearing, village resident Wayne Coe brought up his issues with the survey and the makeup of the collaborative, which he called a “Blue Lives Matter cabal” and said it was “a police gutted survey.” And he stressed that the police in the village “don’t serve me.”
Resident Gavin Preuss spoke about the possibility of having some services performed by the police be performed “in other ways.” He pointed to the Chatham Cares 4U program, which helps people in the community with addiction issues find a treatment bed. “We can do that in other ways than by police,” Mr. Preuss said. He also pointed out that 18 part-time police in the village seemed like a “crazy number” and that all the training hours for the staff size is a “massive investment of time.”
“I’m still not clear in my mind how that meets the needs of the village,” he said.
The other comments at the hearing came from Greener Pathways Program Director Carl Quinn about helping with substance abuse. He said the plan suggested that the police could work with other organizations to help with these issues and pointed out that Greener Pathways, a community-based outreach program that helps individuals and families who are struggling with chemical dependency, serves all of Columbia County.
Mayor Howe said to Mr. Quinn, “You are on the top of the list.”
Comments on the survey and from focus groups ranged from not having much contact with the police to concerns about the funding for the police force in the village. Fourteen people who responded to the survey answered the questions of what would make them feel safer with the answer that they wanted “full-time or more police presence/more foot and bike patrols.” Others talked about more lighting, flashing crosswalk signs, community watch and fewer police.
‘Tonight is not the end of the process.’
Chatham Mayor John Howe
The draft includes recommendations on policies, procedures and practices of the police, as well as recommendations on training, social justice, community relations and accountability. In this part of the draft there are recommendations to “prohibit association with hate groups.”
Also there are suggestions for use of force and deescalation training, and diversity and implicit bias awareness training, which the plan says are already happening. And there are recommendations for diversity recruitment. Under Community Relations, there is a section on “increased police visibility in the community.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Howe said that people could still send written questions or comments to the village about the draft. The board plans to vote on the draft at their March 8 meeting.
To contact the village go to villageofchatham.com. The mailing address is Tracy Memorial Village Hall, 77 Main Street, Chatham, NY 12037.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email