QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Warren County Sheriff Jim LaFarr was joined by a fleet of local leaders and community stakeholders on Wednesday, in the first of what is planned to be a series of virtual meetings on reform and reinvention for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
The meeting was in response to a state mandate that county police departments build plans of action to overhaul operations where needed, in response to movements against police violence over the summer. Those movements were not unheard in Warren County, which was home to a sizeable Black Lives Matter rally in Glens Falls.
In addition to county staff, LaFarr was joined by Michael Bittel of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce; Mary Gooden, president of the Glens Falls NAACP; Brian Bearor of the Glens Falls YMCA; and Leo Lloyd Jr., Captain of the Glens Falls Salvation Army.
The list of main talking points from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office includes reviewing the needs of the communities the department serves, and involve the whole community in the planning process. The meeting was livestreamed on Warren County’s YouTube channel, and public comments and questions were submitted through text chat.
LaFarr emphasized up top that the meeting was only the beginning.
“We’re not going to stop with just these points,” he said. “If there are points in other areas we can improve, we want to hear about them and we are going to incorporate them in this plan.”
One area of improvement LaFarr was ready and willing to acknowledge was the area of training. He said supervisors have already been made aware of those needs, and that, due to the costs associated, free training would be sought where possible.
Glens Falls NAACP President Mary Gooden inquired as to not just the training of the county police force, but its makeup and ethnic background. LaFarr said that none of the county’s officers are racial minorities, a fact which he saw as an indicator that recruitment practices needed work.
“To be perfectly honest with you, that’s an area where we need to be better,” LaFarr said, asking Gooden to be an involved part of that process.
Diversion programs were another talking point. Those programs are designed to keep low-level offenders into a court program, rather than the court system at large. LaFarr said such a program is being considered for the city of Glens Falls, and that he saw trust between his department and the community as a sticking point that would need to be ironed out for such a plan to work. Without that trust, law enforcement officers given the say in who gets diverted could come under a great deal of scrutiny.
“There are a lot of people who don’t trust us,” he said. “If we enter into a program such as this, where the police officers have a say in who is diverted and who isn’t, I would approach it with an abundance of caution.”
LaFarr suggested the implementation of social workers in making those decisions. He said the rights of both offenders and victims would be a topic of importance in upcoming talks.
Watch the full conference above.