editorial

You’ve got to be kidding me

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 3/31/21

The sheriff’s office police reform and reinvention survey would be a hoot—if it weren’t so seriously deficient.

Out of a county of over 75,000, 362 responded to the 13-question …

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editorial

You’ve got to be kidding me

Posted

The sheriff’s office police reform and reinvention survey would be a hoot—if it weren’t so seriously deficient.

Out of a county of over 75,000, 362 responded to the 13-question survey that was shared online. While six didn’t answer the question about race, out of those 356, 316 were white.

On the question of, “What do you view as the most important aspect of the police reform and reinvention process?” 45 percent said recruitment and retention. Another 33 percent were concerned about deputy responses to and handling of mental health and drug abuse cases.

On the question of, “What extent do you believe that the sheriff’s department treats people fairly?”  54.7 percent responded “extremely fair” with another nearly 30 percent saying “very fair.”

Considering the question of, “What extent do you believe that the sheriff’s office is responsive to the concerns of the community members?”  54.17 percent said “extremely responsive” with another 30 percent responding “very responsive.”

On trust, 70 percent “trust a lot” and 18 percent said “average trust.”

I laughed, but it wasn’t really funny. It was more predictable than anything. When a particular group of people respond to a survey, you’ll receive a particular set of answers.

It gets worse from there.

The first draft of the plan, which was 203 pages, had raw survey data in it. It was announced that it was available for comment on March 24, when a finalized plan needed to be adopted by the legislature by April 1. A second draft, which removed the detail and still offered no analysis, was released sometime before the first public hearing on the plan on March 26 at 4:30 p.m. (A second hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30, after which the legislature will adopt the plan in time to submit it to the state.)

It is an incomplete document. While you can look through the individual answers of 362 respondents as to what town they live in, there is no cumulative list. There are no records of the comments from the community about ways they thought the department could improve or what the department might implement. Those pages are simply blank.

With no record of responses from the public, where did this plan come from? From the first public hearing, one stakeholder who was listed by name went on record to say that they hadn’t been to a meeting. There were grumblings of that being the case with others. What was the process? The late at-deadline public hearings do not hold much promise that public comment will be included in the adopted plan.

It raises the question of why was this process, and the plan that emerged from it, so lacking? Did anyone really care? Did the department want to find out what might need improving or was it an exercise of maintaining the status quo?

Despite all, there are two takeaways that hold true. One, that officers need to be better trained to handle situations involving mentally ill residents and drug-abuse cases, and two, that deputies need to be paid more.

These are undeniably true. Law enforcement officers are our first line of defense for community safety. Officers need to be fairly compensated and well trained to handle the challenging situations they find themselves in.

Still, at a time when relations between police agencies and the public need to be strengthened, it is not a joke that the sheriff’s department did not exercise this process judiciously. It is a missed opportunity to build better relationships and community trust.

There is good news, perhaps, with undersheriff Eric Chaboty announcing at the March 26 public hearing that the development of the plan would not stop at the April 1 deadline.

As the Sullivan County Legislature signs off on a plan and a report that is woefully inadequate, it needs to pledge to ensure that the continuing police reform and re-invention process actively seek to bring people together to establish a wider circle of collaboration and greater accountability between the law enforcement and the community they are charged to protect.

Otherwise, we are all the April Fools.

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