Yates County legislators certify police reform plan

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Completion and certification before April 1 avoids financial penalties from the state.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike

PENN YAN – Responding to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 requiring local governments to review and develop a plan to improve police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices, Yates County and Sheriff Ron Spike completed a comprehensive review of policing in the county.

The county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council consulted with stakeholders including members of the community in areas with high numbers of police and community interactions, interested non-profit and faith-based community groups, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, and local elected officials.

The county offered the plan in draft form for public comment from all citizens, considered the comments submitted, and the final draft was submitted to the Yates County Legislature March 8.

The plan was ratified by the legislature at a special meeting March 19, and Chairman Douglas Paddock was authorized to sign the form and plan for submission to the Director of the State Division of the Budget.

Yates County Legislature Chairman Douglas Paddock

Spike and Paddock answered the following questions regarding the plan:

1. What you consider to be the highlights of the Police Reform Plan?

Spike: Being a N.Y.S. accredited agency, we could show conformance with required contemporary policies and procedures. Further, the policies and general orders are conforming to the model polices established by the Governor’s N.Y.S. Municipal Police Training Council.

Paddock: Much of the focus of the Plan was already in place and is ongoing. Enhanced training on multiple topics is also incorporated.

2. What were the most serious issues that had to be addressed locally?

Spike: No serious issues; we already had policy to address the new legislation in 2020. There were 15 required reform components to be addressed and we met all of them. Additionally, via the surveys and public presentations, etc. we decided we should enhance our training on de-escalation, and implicit bias; and procedural justice. We have already addressed some of this and will continue to complete this year. We have changed some reporting forms to the legislature for added stats, and we created a new policy entitled “Fairness and Equity.” We also established an agency Creed. Equipment wise, we have issued Deputies Axon tasers (non-lethal) and new body-worn cameras with auto-on features. The county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) will be the oversight verification for the additional training we are pursuing.

3. What challenges did you face getting it finished by April 1?

Paddock: The biggest challenge was establishing a process for creation of the Plan. The Executive Order merely stated that a Plan had to be developed and components that needed to be addressed, but did not provide much more. Fortunately, The City of Corning, Steuben County, and Corning Incorporated collaborated early on and provided a framework that other municipalities could follow. We unashamedly used components of their approach when creating our Plan.

4. What were the potential consequences from the state had it not been done in time?

Paddock: The state was supposed to clarify funds to be withheld due to non-compliance with the Executive Order (i.e. – whether it applied to all state aid or just state aid to the Office of Sheriff), but the information was not forthcoming.

The chart ... is from the presentations and was incorporated into the Report and Plan. At risk could have been as little as $112 or as much as nearly $7 million. There was no desire on anyone’s part to jeopardize state aid.

5. Are there any comments you wish to make, including any particular thanks or criticisms?

Spike: I appreciate the collaboration with the Chairman and the Legislature as well as thank all that participated in the public presentations and completing the important community, law enforcement, and inmate surveys.

Paddock: I echo Ron’s thanks and also recognize the members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council that attended meetings and offered input to the Report and Plan as it was developed. The CJCC will be monitoring progress.

The funding for the Yates County Sheriff's Office and the county as a whole from New York State.