Despite Activist Concerns, Broome Legislature Adopts Police Reform Goals

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Broome County legislators signed off on a set of reform recommendations for the Sheriff’s Office Thursday night. The resolution comes as a result of the statewide New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which mandated that all law enforcement jurisdictions review their policies and host community discussions on changes they can make.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent law enforcement for the 21st century,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to police chiefs and sheriffs last August.

Activists involved in racial justice protests over the summer, however, said the county’s guidelines aren’t enough. During a news conference on Thursday, community advocates with a coalition of Broome County-based social justice groups said the recommendations, leave room for interpretation, give the Sheriff’s Office too much control over how it implements them and ignores community input.

Mani Griffin (left) and Andrew Pragacz address their concerns about Broome County Police Reform and Reinvention Plan, which includes six goals for the Sheriff’s Office to implement. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

The county’s police reform plan included several broad instructions: create and maintain a plan to recruit more officers of color; expand mental health programs; help people arrested, but not incarcerated find treatment for substance use disorders; start a program to provide civil service test training; and find ways to promote engagement educate the public about the sheriff’s programs’.

The plan was the result of several weeks of meetings, including two public hearings. But the members of the activist group said the opportunities for public input were poorly organized and the report lacked data on discrimination and bias within the Sheriff’s Office.

Activists said they were dismayed with the county’s reform plan, which was limited to the instructions for the Sheriff’s Office.

“It wasn’t inclusive and they didn’t listen to any of the needs of people of color,” said Mani Griffin, a Johnson City resident.

Griffin, who grew up in Binghamton, said the process by which the county drafted its reform and reinvention plan silenced Black residents like him. Griffin said he has been racially profiled by law enforcement while driving before and wants to see funding for the Broome Sheriff reinvested in community-based programs, like mental health services and youth centers.

The county published a draft of its plan in February. A public hearing was held a week later, but no further changes were made.

“Our committee agreed that there were no changes that needed to be made to the proposal,” said County Legislator Scott Baker, who served on the task force.

Broome County’s police review task force was composed of 12 members, including Sergeant Sam Davis, director of training for the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, the county district attorney and public defender, two county legislators, two community liaisons, a faith leader and the county’s director of social services.

Baker, who represents part of eastern Broome County, also sits on the legislature’s public safety committee. He said it will be up to the Sheriff’s Office to figure out how the recommended goals are executed.

“It’s not the committee’s role to create. We provide them the goal,” Baker said. “‘This is what we want you to do. You come up with how you do it and you report back to us.’”

The county guidance asked the sheriff to provide an update on the implementation of the goals by April 1 of next year.

Andrew Pragacz, with Justice and Unity in the Southern Tier, said that the intended process does not fulfill the governor’s intentions.

“That is at the very least going around the spirit of what this was supposed to be, which was a broad community conversation that was able to bring people together throughout the community to produce better policies and goals,” Pragacz said.

Unlike the city of Binghamton, which released its reform and reinvention draft on Friday, the county did not hire any third parties to analyze or compile data related to officer conduct, including the use of force. A review of officer conduct was requested in the governor’s guidance.

Members of the activist coalition said they hope the governor rejects the plan, which must be submitted to the state by the end of the month. The guidance issued by Cuomo requires jurisdictions to submit a record that plans were adopted by local governments by April 1, but does not indicate whether those plans must be sent to the state or are subject to state approval.

The legislature passed the resolution 11 votes to 4.