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Police on panel see training as ‘key’


HUDSON—Training, overtime, no-knock raids, police conduct, body cameras, mental health and orders to transport received attention at the Columbia County Police Reform Panel sessions December 2 and 3.

The December 2 session consisted of a presentation by Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett. The December 3 session consisted of presentations by police chiefs James Delaney of Stockport and Kevin Marchetto of Greenport, Officer-in-Charge Vernon Doyle of Philmont, Executive Director Beth Schuster of the Twin Counties Recovery Center, and Acting Director Dan Almasi of the County Department of Human Services.

Training is the “key,” concurred Chief Delaney and Officer Doyle.

“I saw the choking of George Floyd,and I was disgusted,” said Chief Marchetto. “The officer wasn’t trained.”

Sheriff Bartlett said that after Police Academy, police officers must have at least 21 hours of training a year for the Sheriff’s Office to keep state accreditation, and Columbia County usually does “more than the minimum training.”

Continuing training topics mandatory for all Columbia County police officers include anti-bias policing, uncovering implicit bias, workplace violence prevention, deescalation techniques, and communication, use of force, firearms, sexual harassment, mental health, and ethics. In addition there are in-house instructors for a topic called principled policing. The Philmont police piggyback on county police training, said Officer Doyle, thanking the sheriff.

Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson asked whether there is an evaluation of how effective training is. Sheriff Bartlett responded that he had never seen one.

Mr. Marchetto said that when he first joined a police force, in 1985, “Not once was anybody ever instructed about chokeholds” or strikes to the head. “We were told, when he’s handcuffed, the game is over.”

On another matter, “overtime is simply unavoidable,” Sheriff Bartlett said. “When a shift falls below its minimum number of people, we must fill in with overtime. When an officer is in training, is sick, or takes personal time, that requires overtime.” Calls for police services can create overtime, depending on how many officers are required and for how long. “And when municipalities or private entities borrow county deputies for police work, that creates overtime,” the sheriff said.

Deputies who fill the majority of overtime have volunteered to do so, according to Sheriff Bartlett. And because some deputies volunteer for more overtime than others that “creates a wide disparity in annual salaries.”

‘Is there psychological testing done and minimum psychological requirements for people who want to be police officers, like there is in other states?’

Exec. Director Beth Schuster

Twin Counties Recovery Center

The sheriff also said that hiring additional staff to reduce overtime leads to raises in the cost for labor and benefits. The county can offset the cost of some of the overtime because municipalities and other entities pay the full cost of enhanced policing from the Sheriff’s Office and, “the Sheriff’s Office receives grant funding… for the overtime pay for … for specific law enforcement purposes.”

One of these grants is for Police Traffic Services, “to target aggressive drivers, cell phone use, texting, and seatbelt enforcement.” Since this grant started, traffic fatalities have been reduced, Sheriff Bartlett said.

The sheriff called no-knock warrants necessary in cases such when suspects who hear a knock can quickly arm themselves and take hostages inside. But before a search, “We do a threat assessment. We don’t want to startle kids if we don’t have to.”

He added that since he became sheriff, “there have been no complaints of misconduct against any of our members while on duty.” Complaints about a deputy being rude he said are uncommon, but people who receive a ticket or are arrested are unhappy.”

Abdus Miah, supervisor of Hudson’s Second Ward asked whether the Sheriff’s Office does an annual survey on public attitudes toward law enforcers.

“No we don’t, but it’s a good idea,” answered Sheriff Bartlett.

“We did a survey of our time and got 89% approval,” said Mr. Marchetto.

The sheriff said his office is testing and evaluating body worn cameras…”to record interactions between deputies and the public,” citing “additional accountability” as the reason.

Mr. Marchetto said body cams “protect us from lawsuits.”

Body cameras “protect the officer, they protect the town, and they protect the individual being interviewed by the police,”said Chief Delaney.

“Is there psychological testing done and minimum psychological requirements for people who want to be police officers, like there is in other states?” asked Ms. Schuster.

“No,” answered an officer, “but I wish there were.”

Mr. Almasi asked what percent of police calls involve mental health issues. Sheriff Bartlett said often they do not know whether a call will involve such an issue until they are on site.

Mr. Almasi explained situations where Community Services issues an order for a law enforcement officer to take a person to a hospital or for evaluation, even if against that person’s will. This happens only for people considered a danger to themselves or others or have “compromised themselves because of medical neglect.” He said this “temporarily restricts a person’s civil liberties.”

On another topic. Mr. Johnson said the DARE school drug abuse prevention program does not work. “No matter how it has evolved, it’s never been effective. People use drugs to cope,” the mayor said.

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