Putnam County Aims to ‘Remove Weaknesses’ in Police Reform Plan

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced last week that the county’s Police Policy Comprehensive Review has been filed with the state in advance of the April 1 deadline.

“This was a demanding and time-consuming process and I’m very grateful to all who participated,” Odell said. “While the review was required by the state, it gave us a chance to take an honest look in the mirror and see how we are doing and where policing needs to improve in the county. I want to thank all the stakeholders and the subcommittees that contributed valuable ideas. The work is not done yet, it will be ongoing. We will continue to review police policies with an eye to equity and fairness.”

In June 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an Executive Order requiring local governments to examine their existing police policies and recommend changes to eliminate discrimination. In response, Putnam convened a Police Policy Review Panel, chaired by Odell, that included leaders of non-profits, law enforcement, elected officials, local government leaders and mental health practitioners.

Soon after, subcommittees were formed representing various community groups.

Carla Lucchino, the leader of the Law Enforcement Subcommittee, said there were many good, common sense ideas that came out of the effort.

“My team was made up of smart, dedicated county residents with fresh perspectives and new solutions for long-standing problems,” Lucchino said. “We are thankful for the opportunity to participate and stand ready to assist with implementation.”

Louis Riolo Jr., Assistant Superintendent for Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES and leader of the Education Subcommittee, said the process helped give underrepresented communities an equal voice.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to effect real change in Putnam County with regards to police reform and improving what is already good,” Riolo said. “It’s a chance to remove weaknesses in policies that impact our fellow families, friends and members of the underrepresented communities.”

The 248-page report included such recommendations as ensuring a health professional assists when responding to mental health or substance abuse issues; providing de-escalation training; using dashboard and body cameras on all law enforcement officials while on duty; increasing the number of Spanish speaking officers; and increasing police transparency by publishing Putnam County Sheriff’s Department policies online.

“We invited local municipalities and local police to sit on the panel and share ideas and resources while they developed their own plans,” Odell said. “That is as it should be. We are one county, but the towns and villages are each unique. Their reports and reform plans should be based on the specific needs of their communities.”

Michael J. Piazza Jr., Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and Mental Health and a member of the Police Policy Review Panel, said the report’s emphasis on training was essential.

“The lack of mobile psychiatric crisis intervention teams very often results in calling on law enforcement to address a psychiatric problem,” Piazza said. “While this has not occurred in Putnam, several of the high-profile incidents with bad outcomes that were the impetus for Executive Order 203 occurred because law enforcement was called to address a person in distress. The Putnam Police Review Panel report emphasizes our dedication to maintaining the highest standards of crisis intervention training for our law enforcement community and for enhancing the coordination between the behavioral health community and law enforcement.”

Some stakeholders and subcommittee groups expressed frustration with the review process, noting that they didn’t get access to all the police policies that they wanted to review, including resources and materials. The People of Color Subcommittee suggested that an ongoing Public Accountability Committee (PAC) be established to examine policing issues going forward.

The Putnam County Legislature is considering the proposal.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino, who is chair of the Protective Services Committee, said the PAC would have her support.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Nacerino said. “The policies that guide our law enforcement need to be transparent. The public should know how decisions are made. Still, this should not be confused with the kind of civilian review board that hears police complaints, that’s not what we are talking about.”

Odell concurred, saying, “The whole point of this review is to modernize policing and to do that, the committee needs time to scrutinize all the policies that are in place.”

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