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Reforming police

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino discusses his department at the Fulton County Sheriff's Office Police Reform Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office’s Police Reform Advisory Committee discussed the current department, a timeline and plans for a public survey at its inaugural meeting Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn.

The 17-member volunteer panel consists of legislators, county staff, police and members of the community and is tasked with a Fulton County Police Reform Plan it can forward to the state by April 1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has mandated such plans by police departments across the state. The plans are to have various goals such as reviewing the needs of the minority community, establishing policies, involving the public, making recommendations, and adoption of a final plan.

“This has to be completed by April 1,” noted Board of Supervisors Chairman Warren Greene. “The input of everyone here is extremely valuable. This is going to go on for awhile, several months.”

The former longtime county probation director told the committee: “I am so strong on criminal justice under the law.”

Greene said that Fulton County is 95 percent white, but “that makes it no less important” to the plan to make any needed reforms for the sheriff’s office.

Fulton County Undersheriff Dan Izzo discusses a new type of taser during the first meeting of the Fulton County Sheriff's Office Police Reform Advisory Committee Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department serves the county’s 10 towns.

The group unveiled out a timeline that notes two more meetings — the week of Nov. 2 through 6, and the week of Nov. 16 through 20. A draft of the police reform would be done by Dec. 31, with a public hearing set for Feb. 8.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said Sheriff Richard Giardino will be “plan coordinator,” but the Board of Supervisors will provide “logistical support.”

Giardino and Undersheriff Dan Izzo ran the rest of the meeting, which was meant to cover basics.

“People want to be heard,” Giardino said. “They want to know you’re listening to them.”

The sheriff thanked the committee volunteers for accepting their duty to serve. He said reform not only involves law enforcement issues, but mental health issues. He said the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown have most of the minority populations in Fulton County. He said all police departments have to comply with the order, but the plans are being devised to “sharpen up” police operations.

Izzo said the sheriff’s office is studying possible accreditation through the state. He said that as that’s done, certain “milestones” for improvement will be achieved.

“There’s 109 standards in the accreditation and they come directly from the state,” the undersheriff said.

Izzo said that from 2015 to 2019, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office had 64,000 calls for service. He said there have only been five public “personal complaints” lodged against the department during that time.

Giardino clarified his office gets complaints, but those that don’t rise to the highest levels of excessive force.

“We have the benefits of the cameras in the cars now,” he said.

He said many times cameras exonerate police officers from alleged wrongdoing in police stops.

“We believe there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Giardino said. “We’ve increased training. We’re trying to put more emphasis on internal training.”

Giardino said the survey to be generated for the public will be an important part of the county’s police reform plan. He then discussed the types of crimes his department investigates, which he said is more burglaries in the towns than the cities. He said the cities have more larcenies in stores, and his department sees more accidents. He said drug activity is everywhere, especially overdoses in recent years.

“We have a drug problem as well as the cities,” the sheriff said.

One of the questions that can be asked in the survey, Giardino said, is “Are you satisfied with the response time?”

Giardino also said police in general do a “terrible job” communicating some things to the public.

“I’m not limiting this as something to do with minority relations,” he said.

Giardino said there will be some important speakers at upcoming meetings, including folks from the minority community.

But, he stated: “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel with policies we already have.”

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

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