The two-week public review of Steuben County’s proposed Police Reform Plan are now underway.
The county’s Police Reform draft is located on the county website and is timed to open to the public.
Compiled by law enforcement agencies, municipalities and key civic and elected stakeholders in Steuben County, under the guidance of Corning Inc. Program and Change Manager Leader Dawn White, and in collaboration with the City of Corning, the draft looks to improve community relations with local law officers and enhance public safety.
First mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June, Steuben’s collaborative efforts began in August, the draft is built on a solid foundation and points to better ways to serve the public, county Sheriff Jim Allard told the county Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee Monday.
“Ninety percent of our stakeholders believe that police in Steuben County are fundamentally honest, with an approximately 80 percent approval rating,” he told the committee. “Personally, I have been able to understand more clearly the challenges our citizens face daily. This partnership has been enlightening for all of us.”
The draft includes goals already put in place in Steuben this year, including:
- Setting up criminal penalties for a police officer or peace officer who uses a chokehold that causes serious physical injury or death.
- Requiring police or peace officers – on or off duty — who discharge their weapon under circumstances where a person could be struck by a bullet to verbally report the incident within six hours, and file a written report within 48 hours.
- Police departments must submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, as well as the Governor and the State Legislature.
- Other reforms already carried out this year include the right of someone not under arrest or in custody to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of the recording and any property or instruments used to record the activities. Courts will now compile and publish data concerning arrests and court proceedings involving low-level offenses and include anonymous information such as race, ethnicity and sex.
Protection for law officers also are in place, and included in the draft, with penalties for falsely summoning a police officer when there is no reason to believe a crime, offense or threat has been committed.
In addition, investigations of alleged misconduct by anyone with policing authority causing someone’s death will be taken over by the state Attorney General’s Office, and will likely in place by the end of the year, Allard told the committee.
Any death in the county jail also will be investigated by the Attorney General, beginning next year, he said.
Other proposed police reforms during 2021 include outreach with faith-based groups to increase interaction with youth and potential employees and a determined effort to increase the diversity of the candidate pools, provide access to appropriate police data and arrest activities through a monthly report on the county website and social media sites, and provide and improve safety trainings to residents or community groups.
Goals also include training police officers in ways to improve their perception of others, regardless of race, ethnicity and sex, and programs to reduce the officers’ levels of stress, given the high-intensity nature of their jobs.
While the draft calls for more open communication between law officers and the public, it also looks to standardize complaints against police officers across all law enforcement agencies in the county, Allard said.
“We could use the information from those complaints and say ‘Do we have a trend here, is there some way that we can better train new officers to avoid these complaints?’” he said. “We believe law enforcement in this county already meets high standards. These goals will only make us all better.”
If approved, the final draft is expected to be adopted by the county Legislature when it meets in January