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Low turnout at online police reform forum

DUTCHESS COUNTY — Aimed at encouraging public engagement and providing transparency, the Dutchess County Police Reform & Modernization Collaborative is now offering county residents a platform to share their thoughts on police reform through a series of six virtual Police Reform Community Forums — the first of which was organized for residents of northeastern Dutchess County on Saturday, Sept. 12.

This summer, Dutchess County took the initiative to create a unified, countywide law enforcement plan for modernizing police strategies and protocols. Each local government entity with an operating police agency is now required to conduct a comprehensive review of their agency’s current policies, procedures and training and then develop a plan to improve those procedures. Once developed, the plans must be presented to their communities for public comment and then to their local legislative body to ratify or adopt no later than April 1, 2021 — that’s according to a mandate from Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo said the plans must be adopted in order for the police agencies to receive state or federal funding next year.

The first forum was open to residents from the towns of Washington, Stanford, Pine Plains, Amenia and North East and from the villages of Millbrook and Millerton. Facilitated by the Dutchess County Commission on Human Rights, the forum featured an assembly of local elected officials, including Pine Plains town Supervisor Darrah Cloud, North East town Supervisor Chris Kennan, Millerton Mayor Debbie Middlebrook, Stanford Deputy Supervisor Frank Pepe, Millbrook Mayor Michael Herzog and Millbrook Deputy Mayor Tim Collopy.

Delivering an overview of the countywide collaborative to create a police reform plan, Dutchess County Commission on Human Rights member Jen Drake said the commission was there to listen to ideas from the general public regarding police reform, as were the attending officials. Speakers were given three minutes to share their thoughts with priority given to community members who registered to speak beforehand.

Millerton resident Sam Busselle commented that the forum seemed to be an excellent way to get community input.

“Nationwide the case has been made that inequity based on income, class, race or ethnic background is untenable and we must do better,” he said. “To my mind, this crisis and resulting coming together demonstrates an opportunity for an extraordinary effort.”

Building trust and legitimacy, Busselle said, would be an excellent place to start as it can serve an over-arching goal in strengthening community bonds and examining which agencies are best and which elements of social services are critical. Overall, he said the county could do better with more collaboration at various levels, adding that “connections with the county agencies can be significantly enhanced through reliable local facilitators.” 

One senior citizen from Millbrook offered her thanks to the Millbrook Police, saying, “They are wonderful; they have been there for everything and anything that we could think of. I couldn’t think of a more marvelous group of people.”

A resident of Pine Plains, Doug Kramer, talked about the town’s police force and how it’s staffed with officers who were raised in and still reside in the town. As it stands, he said he was unaware of any particular problems that have surfaced in regard to local police activities.

“The problem that I find is, due to the lack of newspapers and news reported for this area of Dutchess County, we really don’t know what’s going on with the police or with their interactions with the community or particularly those in the community who might be concerned or vulnerable to police activity,” Kramer said, “and that lack of information is worrisome.”

Kramer said it might be a good idea for the local towns to set up a small panel of local people who would be kept informed about police activity and could help publicize any problems and call for forums within the towns to discuss those problems.

Along with reflecting her gratitude for the work of the local police, one Millerton resident suggested that it would be useful to find opportunities for community members to get to know their police. Additionally, she asked officials how they would go about addressing residents’ questions about police activity and concerns about police interactions while assuring confidentiality.

Given the small number of people who signed up for the forum, the panel came to a close about a half hour after it began.

To sign up for one of the upcoming forums, go to www.dutchessny.gov/County-Government/Police-Reform-and-Modernization-Col....

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