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Officials give nod to police reform committee

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead, left, and Sheriff Richard Giardino, right, address the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee about a new police reform committee Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County government – per a new state mandate — on Monday began the process of establishing a Fulton County Police Reform Committee.

The Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee endorsed establishment of the panel at the County Office Building The full board would take final action Oct. 13.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead related how on June 12, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring each local government in the state to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021. He said future state aid to localities is conditioned upon adoption of the plan by the deadline. The goal of the order in the governor’s words was: “Each community must envision for itself the appropriate role of the police.”

“Much of this is to make sure that [police] agencies are concentrating on minority representation,” Stead said.

Within the prescribed framework by the state, he said the county must review for its Sheriff’s Department. He said the county’s two cities have to review for their own police departments. State police are exempted.

Stead said a letter from the governor describes a collaborative process that should:

∫ Review the needs of the community served by its police agency and evaluate the department’s current policies and practices.

∫ Establish policies that allow police to effectively and safely perform their duties.

∫ Involve the entire community in the discussion.

∫ Develop policy recommendations resulting from this review.

∫ Offer a plan for public comment.

∫ Present the plan to the local legislative body to ratify or adopt it.

∫ Certify adoption of the plan to the state budget director on or before April 1.

Stead and Sheriff Richard Giardino said the first step in the process is the panel. The following members were proposed: Board of Supervisors Chairman Warren Greene; Oppenheim Supervisor Cynthia Breh, chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee; Giardino; Undersheriff Daniel Izzo; Corrections Officer Jamal Johnson; Christopher House, president of the Fulton County Deputy Sheriff’s Police Benevolent Association; Byron Armstead Barker; Kathy Calabrese, community family services director of the Family Counseling Center; Beatrice Gonzalez; Rev. Robert Linder, pastor of the AME Zion Church in Gloversville; District Attorney Chad Brown; Public Defender Roger Paul; BOCES superintendent or designee; Fulton County Community Services Director Ernest Gagnon; County Attorney Jason Brott; and Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar.

Giardino noted that the Gloversville and Johnstown police departments are state-accredited agencies, while the sheriff’s office is not. He said the county plan will “encompass” village police departments in Broadalbin and Northville.

“I think we’ve put together a pretty good committee,” Giardino said.

Officials said there will be future public presentations.

But Stead said a “challenge” with this new police reform panel will be logistics during COVID-19 on how to conduct meetings. For example, he said meetings could be held at a large in-person venue like Fulton-Montgomery Community College, or online through Zoom.

“We’re still working that out,” Stead said.

The county official indicated police reform is a “hot button issue” across America, but Fulton County is working through the process.

He said a date of March 4, 2021 has been set for the Board of Supervisors to approve a final plan.

“Law enforcement agrees we can do better,” Giardino said.

He said more training of officers is needed, but there is also a need for police to “educate the public.” He said most police do an excellent job, but that work is often ignored by the media. He also said police can’t scare people away as they try to diversify within the ranks.

“We locally can be very proud of our police forces,” said Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born.

Giardino and Greene are currently working on a schedule for completing requirements of the mandated process.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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