Last spring Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 203, requiring all municipalities across the state to have local law enforcement and community members compile Police Reform and Reinvention Plans and submit them to the state by April 1, 2021.
The three towns in the Southern Ulster Times readership area – Plattekill, Marlborough and Lloyd – have all met the requirement. Committees were formed and met regularly to review and revise policies of their respective Police Departments.
Plattekill Police Chief Joseph Ryan said their town committee met and reviewed numerous policies and procedures of his department, such as use of force, personal conduct of officers as well as firearm, taser and pepper spray policies. It was made up primarily of civilians, PBA President Brian Benjamin and Kelly Nelson, who ran the meetings.
“We explored all of those and the code of conduct of my officers, any complaints made against our officers over the years, which there really weren’t many. I took recommendations from them and some of them we endorsed,” he said.
At the committees suggestion, Chief Ryan created a Community Policing Officer who checks in daily with local businesses, churches or farms just to see if they are in need anything from his department.
Chief Ryan said as the weeks passed he found that committee members, “were pretty happy with what they read; I didn’t have to change a lot,” concerning departmental policies.
Ryan said crime data shows that Plattekill is presently the 12th safest town in New York State.
“We’re doing pretty good on crime and how we’re handling it in town,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of use of force incidents in Plattekill.”
The Plattekill Police Department consists of Chief Ryan, Lt. William Smith, two Sergeants, two Detectives with one assigned to URGENT and the other for criminal investigations in town; and 17 part-time officers.
Chief Ryan believes, “there is always time for reform with Police, always time to make yourself better.” He pointed out that rarely do outside entities come into local police departments to assess and evaluate how well they are functioning.
“I don’t think that’s right. I think we all should have that look,” he said. “We can think all day long that we’re doing the right thing and everything is copacetic, but when someone else looks and points it out, you find they’re right. I am always someone who can take criticism; you want to tell me I can do something better, I’ll take a look at it.”
Marlborough Police Chief Gerald Cocozza said their committee met every two weeks.
“In the beginning as we shared huge amounts of data, rules and regulations, it was very slow going because people had to digest and read through the volumes of information I gave them,” he said. “Then we developed a strategy plan and narrowed it down to 14 policies that we wanted to look at that we thought were related to the Governor’s orders.”
This led to discussions of the department’s use of regular and deadly force, updates on how the department handles emotionally disturbed persons, reviewing domestic violence procedures, the department’s hiring policies, making changes to the performance evaluations for officers and to improving community relations policies with the public. He said his department has added more to their training policies in light of the death of George Floyd last year, such as crisis and de-escalation methods as well as explicit bias training. He said these will be mandatory, “rather than if we can get to them.”
Chief Cocozza said they reviewed, and made revisions where needed, to training policies, the use of force policy, measures to better deal with civilian complaints, along with a new complaint form that can be submitted in their own name, on behalf of another person, by email, by regular mail or anonymously.
“Now we made it a lot easier and hopefully less intimidating,” he said.
Chief Cocozza said during the process suggestions and very strong opinions were expressed that ultimately led to positive policy changes for the public and for the department.
“No complaints really, it went very well. Overall it was a great process,” he said. “Not only was it an eye-opener for them, it allowed us to look at this through a different lens and I think some great things came out of it.”
Cocozza said the process was able to dispel the notion that his department is a fly by night operation, “and we made it up as we went along. They were very, very surprised that we actually had a business plan and that ran in such detail. They didn’t realize that, and in itself that surprised me.”
Marlborough’s committee consisted of the Chief Cocozza, Sgt. Justin Pascale, Councilmen Howard Baker and Ed Molinelli and various community members, such as an attorney, a clergyman, a public defender and a member of the District Attorney’s office.
Chief Cocozza said in the end he was impressed by the committee.
“I was absolutely amazed about their dedication, their openness and I was also amazed on how they stuck to their principles on things they believe in, whether or not I argued for or against what they believed in.” He said through some very pointed back and forth discussions, “we came up with some very great suggestions that work for everybody.”
Chief James Janso said they started their meetings in September that took place once a month for two or three hours.
“We had different topics of concern, issues and our policies on what we’re going to change and where we are as far as training and technology. That was pretty much the pattern on how the meetings took place – where we were, where we are now, what we’ve done and where we’re going in the future.”
Janso said when he took over as Chief he was already in the process of updating some policies that were a decade old. He pointed out that police policies for the town is hundreds of pages long.
Janso said is department has been proactive in reaching out to the community through a variety of initiatives – morning coffee meetings, walk throughs in the hamlet and assisting at community events such as Independence Day festivities.
Janso said the reform committee was very supportive.
“It was a good working relationship to see that they understand some of our points of view on what and why we do things and why we can’t disclose certain things. It really pulled back the curtain even further on things we already do and showed them our department; this is the diversity in our department and this is how we hire people. I think everyone took away even more of what our community expects and what we do for our community.”
Janso said the committee had 13 members of different ages and from a variety of professions. He said any deficiencies that were identified, his department will look to revise or change in order to move ahead.
“In law enforcement you have to always be looking to change and do better; you have to because everything is changing around you,” he said. “I think the Governor’s mandate really helped us because it opened up the community’s eyes to what we do, who we are and what the goal is that we plan to achieve and how we’re going to implement the trainings and policies.”
The Lloyd Police Department consists of 10 full time officers that includes the Chief, a Lieutenant, 2 Sergeants and 6 officers along with 2 full time and 8 part time dispatchers. The roster is supplemented by 9 part-time officers. They cover 24/7, seven days a week.
Janso said he is, “proud of where we’ve come over the years with our community. We work for the town and are part of the fabric of our town.”
Janso said he took the Governor’s executive order very seriously and he and Lt. Phil Roloson dedicated a lot of time working with the committee.
“The big take away is if you have good communication you can get anything accomplished, which is why we do our community outreach,” he said. “It was basically continuing doing what we’ve been doing but with just more of a longer game plan for this.”