HUDSON—Columbia County has begun acting on its Police Reform Plan created by the Police Reform Implementation Committee, even though the plan has not yet been approved by the state.
The county committee plan was filed at the beginning of April as required by the governor. Meanwhile the county committee is reviewing the issues addressed in its plan—most recently the use of body camera video.
“I hope we can move forward with things that benefit safety and trust,” and end racial bias, said Committee Co-Chair Tistrya Houghtling (New Lebanon) on June 28. Robert Beaury (Germantown), the other co-chair, said on June 24 that he is glad to contribute to improving the police locally, but addressing the underlying problems requires “soul searching” nationwide.
The same day, June 24, Michael Chameides (Hudson 3rd Ward) offered advice to the committee, emphasizing the importance of community engagement in the Implementation process.
In addition to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, the police departments participating in the county committee’s plan are the Greenport, Philmont and Stockport police departments. Hudson and the Village of Chatham departments each developed their own plans.
(The committee also met July 6, 2021.—Ed.)
Currently, Ms. Houghtling (D) and Mr. Beaury (R ) are the only supervisors on what is called the Implementation Committee. The other committee members, according to the May meeting minutes, are: County Sheriff David Bartlett; Gary Graziano, a retired Hudson Police commissioner; David Hall of Ancram; and William Hughes, a former supervisor from Hudson.
The first issue the committee focused on was body cameras. Ms. Houghtling reported that the committee is going point by point through a list of eight recommendations for body camera use that Mr. Chameides issued on April 3. It is also reviewing the policy that the Sheriff’s Office implemented this spring based on state guidelines.
The sheriff is an elected official and has “autonomy over his policies,” Ms. Houghtling pointed out. “We can’t force him” to adopt policies, she said, adding, “I’m glad that the sheriff is willing and able to work collaboratively with us.”
“As a society at large we have to get to the root causes of suspicion and distrust,” said Mr. Beaury. “If you don’t deal with the underlying causes it’s just tweaks. Body cameras and car cameras are band aids. We can have the greatest body camera policy in the world, but it won’t stop the problem. Nine minutes of camera didn’t save George Floyd.”
“To me, it’s a deeper problem with society,” Mr. Beaury continued. “Nationally, we’ve had our heads in the sand for years going back to the mid-19th century. We’re stuck in the same place we were in the 1860’s. Our society continues systematically to treat some people unequal. We’ve created legal loopholes so things can continue as they are. We have to do serious soul searching about the direction we’re going.”
Examples of loopholes, he pointed out, include the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. The 13th abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude “except as punishment for crime.” The 14th guarantees “equal protection of the law for all persons” but accepts states denying someone the right to vote “for participation in rebellion or other crime.”
Since a disproportionate number of the people convicted of crimes are people of color, reducing the civil rights of convicts and ex-convicts is like denying those rights to people of color.
“Make sure that your chance of getting arrested does not depend on the color of your skin,” said Ms. Houghtling. “We need to get rid of implicit racial bias. We must recognize it exists” and not let it influence police decisions.
Still, Mr. Beaury said, “It is incumbent upon us as elected people to make a difference. Keep your eyes on the prize.”
“At the end of the day,” Ms. Houghtling said, “my goal is to make sure there is accountability and protection for both the public and the police. We must work to rebuild trust in the police.”
Mr. Chameides recommended that that committee take advantage of more opportunities to engage the public, so it does not become a closed discussion group.
“If anyone out there has had an experience with the police, please come forward and tell us,” Ms. Houghtling said.
Ms. Houghtling also recommended that the committee consult experts in the topics under consideration, such as body cameras. Mr. Chameides said an example of an opportunity it should seize is to meet with filmmaker Theo Anthony, who has studied body cameras and their use for years, has made a film about them, (“All Light Everywhere”). He has shown it to some Hudson politicians and has served on the City of Hudson’s police reform panel.
Ms. Houghtling reported that a recent committee meeting looked at Mr. Chameides’ first recommendation for body cameras: increasing the number of seconds the video/audio captures before the officer presses the “record” button from 30 to 120. “I agreed,” Ms. Houghtling said. “It’s important for the public to understand what happened before an incident.”
But she said that the sheriff disagreed but said he would consider 60 seconds as a compromise.
Another of Mr. Chameides’ recommendations for body cameras is that, in cases whether the officer involved must submit testimony, they should do so prior to looking at the camera footage. Around the country, some police officers change their story after looking at the video, Mr. Chameides said in the June 24 conversation.
In addition, Mr. Chameides said, it is good to know what police protocols other places have, but “just relying on what other places are doing is not enough. Part of the idea of reform is not to end up where everybody else is but to end up with something that’s unique,” to meet the locality’s unique needs. He urged adoption of a policy that “is better than the standard,” because, he said, the standard “isn’t working.”
“We put a lot of faith in the Police Reform Implementation Committee,” Mr. Chameides said. “I’m excited where it takes us if it results in a safer county.”
The Columbia County Police Reform Implementation Committee has been meeting the first Tuesday of each month.