Sheriff moving forward with police reform mandates

JOHNSTOWN — A draft survey for the public was released at the second meeting of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office’s Police Reform Advisory Committee Tuesday night at the Holiday Inn.

Sheriff Richard Giardino went over a series of 20 questions that will assist the committee in its work. Some of the questions were altered or combined before the discussion was concluded.

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 is only a draft,” Giardino said of the survey questions. “These kind of made sense to me.”

The introduction to the one-page survey states: “Understanding residents’ opinions of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is instrumental to developing appropriate law enforcement responses to concerns expressed by members of the community. This survey covers the Sheriff’s Office and both the Broadalbin Police and Northville Police Departments. All survey responses are private and confidential.”

Giardino said the survey is basically for people who have had contact with police, and the first few questions related to those experiences. It asks the surveytaker to rate “professionalism and fairness” of officers — from very dissatisfied to very satisfied.

Other questions related to the work place, with business owners and employees asked to rate their interactions with police.

“Do you feel that the Sheriff’s Office provides adequate coverage in your town?” was one question.

Questions on the survey also relate to trust, response time, whether officers are properly trained, comparisons between the Sheriff’s Office and other police agencies, describing police in three words, and suggestions to improve the Sheriff’s Office.

Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar thought some of the questions should be worded different, perhaps less complicated.

Public Defender Roger Paul felt the survey shouldn’t be “dumbed down,” but rather people taking the survey could be personally helped to fill out their forms.

Also during the meeting, area resident Sharon Horton gave a presentation about how police have handled incidents involving her adult, bipolar son.

“It’s been a struggle for a very long time,” she said of her son’s mental illness.

Horton recounted an incident locally in 2017 when her son was off his medications and was due to be “picked up” by the Broadalbin police for an eventual mental health evaluation. But she said her son escaped, ended up in a woods in Amsterdam and then at a friend’s house in the town of Perth. When he was caught up with he was rushed by police, tased twice and hog tied although he was in a manic state.

She said there have been other incidents the last few years in which he has been pepper sprayed while in a “super agitated” state. Horton has called on more use of crisis intervention teams instead of heavy police tactics in dealing with people like her son.

Giardino released a list of what he said was Sir Robert Peel’s “principles of law enforcement” from 1829 that still fit today.

The sheriff also discussed police work in general, stating: “It’s inherently a dangerous job. People know that when they take it.”

The Police Reform Advisory Committee has a tentative schedule calling for a third upcoming meeting, possibly in November; completion and release of a draft police reform plan by Dec. 31; Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee review of the draft plan on Jan. 25; public hearing on Feb. 8; adoption of the plan on March 8; and submittal of a reform plan certification to the state Division of Budget by April 1.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older