The Saugerties Police Reform and Reinvention Committee has delivered its report to the Saugerties Town Board, which will review it and possibly modify the town laws based on its recommendations.
The board voted to adopt the report and recommendations at its regular meeting on March 17.
Gilda Riccardi, who had acted as moderator for the three public meetings the committee held, said the committee had operated independently; she thanked Supervisor Fred Costello and the Town Board for allowing the committee its complete independence.
The committee included Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, an assistant district attorney and a diverse group of citizens. The 13-member committee was part of a statewide effort mandated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to evaluate law enforcement and, in particular, how law enforcement agencies dealt with “communities of color,” Riccardi said.
“We were formed in October; we met every single week for a minimum of an hour and a half and then we broke up into groups and did research on different areas, Riccardi said.”
“What we are very proud of is the final report that we submitted to the board,” she said.
In line with Cuomo’s executive order, the committee “reviewed the policies and procedures of the Saugerties Police Department, Riccardi said. “We found a wealth of information there,” as well as in other reports and records the committee examined. The final report was presented to the public on February 17.
The results of surveys the committee send out are collected on the group’s Facebook page, Riccardi said. She explained that the committee had its public meetings on Wednesday nights, opposite the Town Board, because that was the only time all 18 members were free to meet.
“We are grateful for the effort you all put forward,” Supervisor Fred Costello said. “We are very proud of our police department. Chief Sinagra, Captain Filak, Lieutenant Swart — I applaud them for being on the wheel, so to speak, in thinking about how community policing may work and should work; there’s always a bit of room for improvement, but there were so many things they were thinking about before it became a trendy thing to think about them.”
Costello also praised councilmen John Schoonmaker and Michael Ivino for their effort in coordinating with the committee.
Councilwoman Peg Nau said she “couldn’t believe how complete it was, how thought provoking it was, how interesting it was and all day long since I’ve read it, every once in a while ideas come into my mind about how we can implement this feeling of acceptance and helping one another, the police and the general community.”|
Bob Thomann, a committee member and Saugerties school board president, said the committee’s work “was a big undertaking. The good news is that with all the turmoil across the country Saugerties is doing well. Our police department is in really good shape. We’ve reviewed every statistic. Our school resource officer is up for a national award. We’re really an example to the towns and villages around the state and the United States of how to run a police department. I think you should be really proud — our police department deserves every accolade that we can give it.”
“We didn’t always agree, but we agreed to a consensus, rather than a majority rule,” Christine Dinsmore said. “We talked things out, rather than steamrolling with hands up. It was really a great, collegial process, and I particularly want to thank Gilda, because she was an incredible chair and facilitated a really difficult project.”
Lanny Walter said the statewide police reinvention came about because of the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. “One thing we learned through our investigation is that training on implicit bias and things like that can lead to some pretty horrible situations.” Walter said he is not saying that Saugerties Police are likely to be involved in a similar situation, “none of us are immune from this sort of bias and I do hope that whatever training the chief requests for subconscious and implicit bias or racial bias training, that you find the funds to let it happen.” Walter noted that this training is noted in the report, “and I do hope it becomes a reality.”
Costello said that he believes Chief Sinagra and Lieutenant Kenneth Swart had recently completed training, so he expects that the department will be sensitive to the need for training. Costello recalled that when Chief Barberia [interim police chief Louis Barberia] joined the department “I enjoyed his perspective very much. One of the things he brought to the department was the perspective that the most important part of our job of a police department is first to police itself because if it did not have the confidence of its residents it couldn’t perform its mandate.”
Costello noted that “even before the governor made this a requirement, Gilda, Nejla [Nejla Liias] and I had discussed some sort of platform like this, to take a look at how we were policing Saugerties, and whether that was consistent with the expectation of our residents.”