BALLSTON SPA — At its monthly meeting, held March 16, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of a police reform report presented by its appointed seven-member “Executive Order 203 Compliance Group.”
The group was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office - including strategies, deployment practices, and policies - and submitting a report of potential recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, as per Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order in 2020.
The group stated the following recommendations:
1. Facilitate and establish an advisory committee to continue to seek public input and community involvement in reviewing policies and procedures utilized by the Sheriff’s Office beyond April 1, 2021.
2. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to take steps necessary to maintain compliance with the New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
3. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to maintain policies consistent with the model policies as provided by the New York State Municipal Police Training Council.
4. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to study and implement training and programs related to topics such as: diversity and cultural education, and elimination of bias.
5. Recommend that the Saratoga County Sheriff explore the development of a body camera and in-car video program for agency. A draft policy should be submitted to the Public Safety Committee for review and recommendations. Recommend that the Board of Supervisors consider funding the establishment of the Sheriff’s body camera and in-car video program to include equipment, storage, and requisite staff for the review and management of video records.
6. Encourage the Sheriff to consult with the Board of Supervisors and its Public Safety Committee in exploring the feasibility of creation of a Professional Standards position or group within the Sheriff’s Office in lieu of the current ad-hoc method of collecting and investigating complaints, reviewing and updating policy and auditing agency performance.
7. Encourage the Sheriff to amend policies and procedures as needed to facilitate collection of additional demographic data on law enforcement contacts to include data related to race and ethnicity.
8. Facilitate the establishment of a County created and maintained list of resources for the public and county employees to reference in lieu of contacting or deploying law enforcement personnel for certain non-law enforcement incidents.
9. Encourage and Recommend the Sheriff continue to engage and support the inclusion of mental health resources in the daily functions of the Sheriff’s Office to the benefit of both the community and members of law enforcement.
10. Recommend to the Sheriff to examine whether methods exist to use equipment with military appearances where necessary to control public disruption and protect lives, but in a manner that reduces the possibility of instilling fear or apprehension on the part of citizens engaging in legitimate public assembly and speech.
“This is an important step forward for our Sheriff’s Office and our County,” said Theodore Kusnierz, Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. “We wanted to find updated approaches to policing in Saratoga County to ensure that our officers could do their jobs as effectively as possible while also making sure that our entire community feels safe and protected, and I believe this report and its recommendations will help us do that.”
Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Tara Gaston cast the lone vote against. While she said she favored the recommendations, Supervisor Gaston expressed concern that some of the recommendations – those instituting the use of body cameras and in-car videos, among them – lacked more urgent language that would see those recommendations implemented. “I’d like to see this not as a possibility to explore, but as a plan to be developed,” Gaston said.
The county Compliance Group reported that from 2016 through 2019, there were between 11 and 22 use of force reports per year. None involved the discharge of a firearm. Over that four-year period, 25 civilian complaints were received, 11 of them sustained. One complaint alleged excessive force, and one complaint alleged bias. Neither allegation was sustained.
Regarding last summer’s event in Saratoga Springs that involved a planned “Back the Blue” rally and a counter-protest by the groups “BLM” and “All of Us,” the Compliance Group said that while it had conducted no structured fact-finding hearing regarding the July 30 event, it did not identify any specific instance of misconduct on the part of any Sheriff’s Department employee.
“Nevertheless, many comments were made concerning the use of the MRAP and the “militarization” of police departments in general,” reads the group’s report. “Accordingly, the Compliance Group believes that the Sheriff should examine whether methods exist to use equipment with military appearances where necessary to control public disruption and protect lives, but in a manner that reduces the possibility of instilling fear or apprehension on the part of citizens engaging in legitimate public assembly and speech.”
Members of the Saratoga County Executive Order 203 Compliance Group are: Dr. Michael Prezioso, Director of the Saratoga County Mental Health Clinic, Chairman Undersheriff Richard Castle, Vice Chairman Darren O’Connor – Supervisor – Town of Malta Thomas Richardson – Supervisor – City of Mechanicville Opal Hinds – Community Member Karen Heggen – Saratoga County District Attorney Andrew Blumenberg - Saratoga County Public Defender.
The 30-page report may be found at: www.saratogacountyny.