EDITORIAL: Police review plans shouldn't have been merely perfunctory

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The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y.
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Mar. 26—As the deadline looms for counties and municipalities to file state-mandated police reform plans, we find some of those local governments took the process more seriously than others.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order, requiring reviews of police practices after the videotaped killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while handcuffed and the national upheaval that followed.

Every county and municipality with a police agency was required to review and update the protocols used by their officers and enlist input from citizens as well as from public defenders and community groups. State funding is at stake.

"We have to address the tensions and lack of trust between our communities and the law enforcement that serves them," Cuomo declared Aug. 17 in releasing a guidebook for the process.

Some counties and municipalities created comprehensive community committees to do their reviews. Others left the process mostly in the hands of the very departments that were being reviewed.

Otsego County's Board of Representatives approved the plan for its Sheriff's Department at a special meeting Thursday, March 25. The county falls firmly in the category of those who took the process seriously.

The review committee included community members with a wide variety of experience appropriate to the issue, including representatives of the area's minority community.

Ari Tobi-Aiyemo, an adjunct professor of business law at Hartwick College and a representative from the Oneonta Area NAACP, told the board of representatives at an earlier meeting that much of the work was informed by a quote from Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr., who was also a panel member.

"Community policing requires cooperation among police, citizens and local decision makers in order to forge effective partnerships that combat criminal activity," she quoted Devlin as saying.

That's a good place to start.

The committee recommended a specific set of improvements. We hope the board and the sheriff take them seriously.

Contrast that to Chenango County, where the Board of Supervisors approved a plan submitted by Sheriff Ernest Cutting, seemingly with the only public input coming from a survey promoted on a Facebook page.

Cutting seems to believe his department's accreditation by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services satisfied the review requirement.

"I think the goals are easy," he told us. "Overall, being an accredited agency and being reaccredited five times — so, being accredited for 25 years — we're open to change, so when there's best practices, we've adopted those best practices. That's what's made it very easy for us."

Some community groups, understandably, didn't agree.

Similarly, Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond pointed to accreditation as evidence that all is well in his department. While a diverse committee was appointed to do the review, two of the members quit and three others chose to file a "supplemental report" with state officials because they felt their concerns were not addressed — including 40 recommendations that were disregarded in the report approved by the county's Board of Supervisors.

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors approved its plan this week, too, seemingly with wide consensus that the oversight committee did a good job.

The city of Oneonta, predictably, created an outstanding committee, complete with subcommittees, that produced a thoughtful report.

We applaud the volunteers who worked to create improved policing in the area and we thank police executives and officers who were open to the opinions of those they have sworn to protect and serve.