Sheriff holds first public forum on police reform

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 February 2021 at 10:54 am

Committee members say Sheriff’s Office is responsive to community, embracing more training to de-escalate volatile situations

This screen shot from Thursday evening’s public forum through Zoom shows, from left, County Chief Administrative Officer Jack Welch, County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson and Sheriff Chris Bourke.

ALBION – Orleans County Sheriff Chris Bourke on Thursday evening led the first of two public forums on police reform, which is required by all 500 police agencies in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June issued an executive order, mandating the law enforcement agencies review policies on use of force and de-escalation, with training of officers on bias in profiling. The governor urged each department to form a committee to review the policies and solicit feedback from residents.

Each department needs to submit a plan to the state by April 1, or they could be cut off from state funding.

Bourke and his committee will hold another public forum at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8. Click here to see a link to the Zoom instructions for the meeting.

“What we are really boiling this all down to is we want the community, no matter your background, that when they deal with law enforcement they are getting a fair shake,” said District Attorney Joe Cardone.

He is a member of the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Committee for both the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office and Medina Police Department.

Cardone spoke at the Sheriff’s Office public forum on Thursday. He said the committee wants to hear from the public if they have concerns when they have interactions with law enforcement. There is also a form (click here) for people to submit comments about the Sheriff’s Office that will be directed to the committee.)

Joanne Best, the county’s public defender, also is on the committee. She asked residents to fill out the form or be part of the Feb. 8 public forum.

“We welcome input from community on how things could be done better,” she said.

That feedback can help the Sheriff’s Office and the committee work on policies that may need improvement and possibly more training for officers.

“Even though it can be adversarial it’s important the population feels respected and that law enforcement is dealing with them in a fair manner,” Cardone said.

‘We heard about defunding our police. For all that our Sheriff’s Department does for our county I wish that we could fund them more.’ – Lynne Johnson, County Legislature leader

The Sheriff’s Office website currently lists policies on de-escalation of force, implied bias, community relations, citizen complaints and investigation of hate crimes.

Bourke said deputies have received more training in responding to people in a mental health crisis. They are trained to help de-escalate those and other potentially volatile situations.

The Sheriff’s Office operates with the purpose that “all persons have the right to dignified treatment under the law; protection of this right is a duty which is binding upon all members,” according to the community relations policy.

The policy about bias-based profiling states that all members of the Sheriff’s Office “will not affect a stop, detention, or search of any person which is motivated by race, color, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual orientation.”

Bourke said the Sheriff’s Office has about 100 employees with 45 at the county jail. There are usually 22 to 24 deputy sheriffs, which includes two investigators, three sergeants, a lieutenant and one civil sergeant. The Sheriff’s Office currently has two vacancies for deputies and an investigator.

Jeff Gifaldi, the chief deputy, said the Sheriff’s Office has three patrol cars out 24-7, except on the weekends, when it is increased to four cars.

The Sheriff’s Office also runs a marine patrol from April 1 to Nov. 1 with a full-time deputy and 10 part-timers. The work in 26 miles of water along Lake Ontario, as well as Lake Alice, Glenwood Lake, the Erie Canal and other smaller bodies of water, Bourke said.

The Sheriff’s Office also runs the 911 dispatch center with nine full-time dispatchers and two part-timers. Last year they handled 32,000 calls.

County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson said the Sheriff’s Office could use more funding to carry out its mission.

“Last years in the events of civil unrest throughout nation, we heard about defunding our police,” Johnson said. “For all that our Sheriff’s Department does for our county I wish that we could fund them more. Defunding our police is not an option in Orleans County.”

She praised the Sheriff’s Office for its community outreach efforts, and increased training for officers.

“I can’t see how we could have better peacemakers,” she said. “Orleans County supports the law enforcement we have 100 percent.”

Terry Wilbert of Albion asked the lone question from the community during Thursday’s forum. He asked about the diversity of the workforce, including if there are women among the deputies.

Bourke said there two women among the deputies, which includes an investigator and a school resource officer. There are four corrections officers who are Black and one of the seasonal marine deputies is Latino, Bourke said.

Thaddeus Nauden, a community member on the committee, said the Sheriff’s Office and local law enforcement have the trust of the community.

“My problem isn’t with the police department in Orleans County,” he said during the forum. “In Orleans County I haven’t seen any problems. The problem is with justice system after the arrest. Too many criminals are put out on the street after their arrest.”

Eddie English, pastor of The Lord’s House in Waterport, also commended the Sheriff’s Office for “doing a great job” and for building many partnerships in the community.

Margie Aldacco, director of a safe house in the county, also is on the committee. She said residents likely aren’t aware of the many programs by the Sheriff’s Office.

James White, a seasonal deputy on the Marine Division, also serves on the committee.

“It’s not just about writing tickets,” he said. “It’s about effecting real change in the community.

We have a good department, with good leadership and they strive to serve the community.”

Trellis Pore, another committee member, said the Sheriff’s Office is embracing training and is focused on serving residents.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to see our Sheriff’s Department wants to have a safe community,” he said.

Bourke said a “few bad apples” among police officers have given law enforcement “a black eye.” He said incidents of police brutality “turn my stomach.”

He said the Sheriff’s Office will continue to have officers trained in de-escalation with mental health and other crises.

“My opinion is the training never stops,” he said. “You have to adjust with the times.”