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Task force recommends long list of reforms for Erie County Sheriff’s Office

Task force recommends long list of reforms for Erie County Sheriff’s Office

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A police reform task force had made numerous recommendations on how to reform the Erie County Sheriff's Office | Mark Mulville
BY: Sandra Tan of The Buffalo News
PUBLISHED: February 28, 2021

A police reform task force wants the Erie County Sheriff’s Office to become more diverse and transparent, while adding more citizen oversight.

The task force also recommends more deputy training, a crisis team to respond to mental health calls, and a citizen review board that would investigate all citizen complaints against deputies.

The county’s Police Reform Citizen Task Force, one of many reform groups created as a result of an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, conducted a survey of deputies and community members before drafting its findings and recommendations. The public has until Monday to weigh in on the draft report before the task force finalizes it and submits it for review by the Erie County Legislature.

“We’d like to see this used as kind of a playbook, especially because we’re going to have a new sheriff,” said task force chairman Martin Scott Floss, criminal justice professor at Hilbert College. “We’d love the new sheriff to sit down on Day One and say, ‘OK, I’ve got some marching orders, some direction on where to go.’ “

Among key findings in the draft task force report:

• The 146 deputies assigned to the sheriff’s patrol unit are overwhelmingly white and male. There are only two people of color, one Black deputy and one Native American, and only 12 women, all white. The Sheriff’s Office was unable to offer any information about hiring diversification plans.

• The Professional Standards Divisions responsible for investigating and disciplining officers sometimes puts those investigators in the precarious position of investigating officers who outrank them. In addition, the investigators have no time frame to complete any investigations.

• Some top leadership positions in the Sheriff’s Office are filled as patronage hires by people with limited leadership training. One deputy described the Sheriff’s Office as being “loaded with political flunkies and not dedicated professionals.” 

• The Sheriff’s Office has no “early warning system” to monitor deputies who have been subject to complaints or discipline.

The report focused solely on policing efforts, as charged by the governor, and did not weigh in on jail management issues, Floss said.  

“We worked very hard to be open and honest and transparent, and to do a rigorous job of examining what we could in the time that we had,” he said.

The draft report offers a long list of recommendations for reforms and improvements, most of which the task force recommends be completed within six months, with others taking up to a year.

Among the task force’s key recommendations:

• Develop a racial diversity recruitment plan.

There are ways to recruit a more diverse pool of deputy candidates who see law enforcement as a noble calling, Floss said.

“I think that policing is becoming a more complicated, more difficult, more technical and more dangerous job, and as a result of those things, we need our new officers to be true professionals with a great skill set,” Floss said.

• Require the use of body and dashboard cameras by patrol deputies.

• Empanel a citizen review board responsible for “fielding, reviewing and the investigation and disposition of all citizen complaints made against a deputy.” The board also would be responsible for vetting and approving any appointee of the sheriff who would be placed in an exempt, confidential or policymaking position. 

• Require members of the Professional Standards Division to be ranking officers who would not investigate anyone with a higher rank.

• Establish a 90-day time frame for completing internal affairs investigations, which may be extended by the supervisor under certain circumstances. Complaints against the department should also be made public.

• Begin issuing an annual report of the Sheriff’s Office budget, expenses, operations, statistical reports on its essential functions and other information. No public annual report has been produced since 2004.

• Create a Crisis Services Response Team that would play a role in assisting deputies responding to mental health calls and emotional welfare visits.

• Provided more training to deputies on a wide range of topics, including risk assessment and de-escalation methods for large gatherings, protests and high-risk situations; strengthening community relations with communities of color; domestic violence and mental health; and use of force.

• Update the sheriff’s use-of-force policy, in consultation with Central Police Services, to be more specific regarding what constitutes use of force and how it should be reported. A review of current policies against best practices is recommended.

• Develop an updated performance review form.

To review the draft report and offer feedback, visit www3.erie.gov/policereform

Once the report is complete, it will go to the Erie County Legislature for consideration and adoption as a local law by April 1.

Read the full article in The Buffalo News –>