GNH Lumber February 2024

Police watchdog panel finds little common ground


HUDSON—The Columbia County Police Reform Plan calls for a Citizens Review Panel to receive complaints against law enforcers. Differing ideas about its role arose at the most recent Police Reform Implementation Committee meeting, August 2. As of then, the Review Panel had been dormant, even though the County had named members to it.

Implementation Committee member William Hughes of Hudson said he envisioned the Review Panel would receive complaints and copies of complaints submitted elsewhere, keep data on them, and make recommendations to officials.

The Review Board has no power over elected officials, like the Sheriff or the County Board of Supervisors, and cannot force them to discipline anyone, labor counsel Elena DeFio Kean pointed out. “No matter how commendable a goal, public officials cannot do anything not allowed by law,” said District Attorney Paul Czajka.

But the Citizens Panel will not pronounce police officers innocent or guilty, Mr. Hughes said. It will not be punitive. But it would serve the county by providing a place where citizens can register a complaint about law enforcement situations without fear of retaliation, by keeping data, and by making recommendations. “If we don’t have data, we don’t know what the complaints were.”

The County Board of Supervisors itself cannot order the Sheriff to do anything or punish anyone, but it can run investigations, someone said. The Attorney General can investigate law enforcement, Mr. Czajka pointed out.

“There would be no need for a police review panel if people felt that complaints were addressed adequately,” said Supervisor Claire Cousin of Hudson’s First Ward. “People say to us supervisors on the ground what they don’t say to the sheriff. We’re trying to create shared trust.”

The Citizens Review Panel “wouldn’t have teeth,” but it would help someone feel “they aren’t walking into a lion’s den to make a complaint,” said Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling (New Lebanon), co-chair of the Implementation Committee.

But Supervisor Robert Lagonia (Austerlitz) and the other co-chair of the committee, said, “I think someone should think twice about filing a complaint,” otherwise there will be “erroneous complaints.”

The County Ethics Board has not conveyed erroneous complaints, so why should the Review Panel, said Mr. Hughes.

“We don’t know that people are intimidated against making complaints” about law enforcement officers,” Mr. Lagonia.

“We don’t know they aren’t intimidated against making complaints,” said Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Lagonia wondered whether it even would be legal for an appointed body to keep data on complaints. Ms. DeFio Kean said she did not know.

“In my opinion, the Citizens Review Board is a duplicative service,” said Sheriff Donald Krapf. “We’re generating oversight every day. Every time a complaint comes in, we investigate. I’m not seeing anything that says the Sheriff’s Office is not doing due diligence.”

“It’s not a duplicative service,” said Mr. Hughes. It “is made of citizens. The only checks and balances against the elected sheriff is the citizens.”

Sheriff Krapf said his oversight committee “is the citizens of Columbia County… 64,000 strong.”

“There’s an oversight committee in regard to complaints,” added Mr. Lagonia. “It’s the Public Safety Committee.”

“When I was on it, there were a lot of complaints that didn’t come to it,” said Mr. Hughes, a former supervisor.

‘If we don’t have data, we don’t know what the complaints were.’

Former Supervisor William Hughes

Member, Citizens Review Panel

The Police Reform Implementation Committee is a sub-committee of the county Board’s Public Safety Committee, which Mr. Lagonia currently chairs.

To nip the Citizens Review Board in the bud is “a slap in the face,” said Ms. Cousin.

“To say I need more oversight is a slap in my face,” said Sheriff Krapf.

More oversight would add to police officers’ already overwhelming workload, the Sheriff continued.

“I don’t want the sheriff to think this would pile up work on his department,” said Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Hughes and Sheriff Krapf both said that their differences were not personal attacks on each other.

On August 8, Richard Washburn, head of the county Ethics Board, said that months earlier Matt Murell (Stockport), chair of the Board of Supervisors, had invited him to join the Citizens Review Panel. Mr. Washburn accepted but said he wanted the panel to have a clear mission, a clear understanding of what was expected of it, and clearly delineated concerns. And so far, he said, the panel had received none of these. As far as he knew, it had never met.

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