October 22, 2021

C’ville super to attend police reform discussion

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms leaves the Cortland Public Safety Building in this Cortland Standard file photo from December 5,2020. Local law enforcement agencies have been listening to citizens’ concerns and questions to gain insight into potential policy and procedure reforms as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order 203.

Cortlandville Town Supervisor Tom Williams said Wednesday he will attend a virtual meeting on police reform later this month held by the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office.

The Jan. 21 meeting will come as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order 203 that was signed into law in June following the death of George Floyd and the protests regarding police brutality and racism.

Floyd died in May at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck while Floyd said he couldn’t breath.

All law enforcement agencies in the state must review their policies and come up with a plan for reforms by April.

Williams, who made the announcement at the Cortlandville Town Board meeting, said he would attend the meeting to “bring back information” on the discussion of potential reforms within the sheriff’s office.

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said before the meeting that the session with municipal leaders will be just one of the ways the office is working to get input as part of the executive order.

“This is one of many meetings we are having with different groups within the county,” he said.

The meeting will be only for municipal leaders.

“The goal is to receive as much input as we can regarding the sheriff’s office,” he said.

The plan the sheriff’s office develops must “include the appropriate role of the police, but allow the police to do their jobs to protect the public,” according to a Dec. 22 letter Helms sent to Cortlandville and other municipalities.

This meeting will be the most recent forum for discussion for the sheriff’s office.

The office had a virtual presentation in December on its operations as part of the executive order. Details on the different branches of the office along with their functions were given by Helms, Undersheriff Bud Rigg, Capt. Rob Derksen and Capt. Nick Lynch. A question-and-answer period was also available where members of the public asked about topics like the diversity of officers, use of body cameras and implicit bias training.

In addition to this, the office, like the Cortland Police Department, has taken part in a countywide survey that was sent to 750 households created by Mary Cannito-Coville, an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at SUNY Cortland.

Questions and topics in the survey focused on areas such as:

  • Quality of life.
  • Safety.
  • Resident perceptions of the police department.
  • Interactions with officers.