Review of sheriff's department underway

Bliss

Otsego County’s version of the state-mandated municipal police review has gone “very well,” according to Rep. Dave Bliss. 

Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, who is the county board chair, told The Daily Star on Monday, Dec. 7, that the county’s review committee has been meeting every two weeks since October and is doing well on its report for the state.

“I think we have had five or six meetings so far,” he said. “We have a clear timeline and we are on schedule.”

Bliss said the group would meet the following day and have a guest speaker it has offered to share with other municipalities with police departments in the county. Dr. Charles Epp, a University of Kansas professor with a concentration on race and discrimination, will speak to the group. According to his University of Kansas biography, his work, “focuses on law, social change and administrative reform, with a particular emphasis on rights and racial discrimination.”

Epp is the author of “The Rights Revolution: Lawyers, Activists, and Supreme Courts in Comparative Perspective”; “Making Rights Real: Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Creation of the Legalistic State”; and is the co-author of “Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship,” all published by the University of Chicago Press.

Bliss said the members of the city of Oneonta, village of Cooperstown and SUNY Oneonta community/police review boards were invited to join in on Monday’s meeting.

“They’re all going through the same process as we are, and they could benefit from hearing from Dr. Epp, so we invited them to call in, if they would like to do so,” Bliss said.   

The county’s 12-member review board includes six county officials and six members of the public, including multiple people of color.

The county members are: Bliss; County Attorney Ellen Coccoma; Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr.; Probation Director Dan Naughton; District Attorney John Muehl; and Rep. Daniel Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee chair.

The members of the public are: SUNY Oneonta men’s basketball coach Cameron Conover; Ameen Aswad, a case worker with Catholic Charities and Cooperstown resident; Ari Tobi-Aiyemo, an adjunct professor of business law at Hartwick College* and a representative from the Oneonta Area NAACP; Molly Myers, a Cooperstown graduate who works with the museums; and Oneonta native Bryce Wooden, who is also on the city’s review board.

A SUNY Oneonta student originally on the panel had to return home to Florida for the semester and was replaced by a Hartwick student, Neiva Fortes, Bliss said. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the civilian and municipal reviews of policing policies and procedures in the spring in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The panels have been charged with producing reports by April 1.

Bliss said the county group will be issuing a survey for county residents and other members of the public to take soon. The survey, which will be done via Survey Monkey, is a quick measure of people’s attitudes about local police. It will be finalized Tuesday and released soon after, Bliss said. 

“The main thing with that is to make sure people are answering about Otsego County police and not about something they have seen on the news someplace else,” he said. 

“We will release that soon and announce it when we release it,” he continued. “It won’t be long. I think it is four or five pages. People can write their comments in at the end, but it is mostly quickly answered questions.” 

Bliss said before the final report is submitted to the state, it will be approved by the county’s Board of Representatives, either by resolution or local law. A local law would require a public hearing to present the report. Any and all of that process will have to happen before the April 1, deadline, making February the likely time the matter would be resolved in the board’s Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee and March the deadline for legislative approval.  

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

* changed at 9:51 a.m. Dec. 9 to correct the type of professor and college at which she teaches.

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