Ulster County holds second town hall on police reform

KINGSTON — The Ulster County Justice and Reform Commission held its second town hall to discuss continued reform of its police departments.

This is part of an ongoing series of discussions as per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order signed in June, which calls for statewide police reform through collaborative efforts among municipalities. 

The issue of expanding the Ulster County Mobile Mental Health team, which answers calls each day related to mental health concerns, was a high priority on the minds of attendees.

This was brought up by Clint Johnson, Ulster County attorney. 

“I think a lot of times what happens in our minority communities is there is an issue and it’s clearly a mental health issue. And the first agency on the scene is the police. I think we need to change that,” he said.

To this end, Johnson suggested having social workers from the Ulster Mobile Mental Health Team sent alongside police officers to help de-escalate the issue. 

“Instead of the frontline being law enforcement, I think there has to be a strong collaboration between law enforcement and mental health,” he said. 

Holding police accountable was also a top issue for town hall attendees. 

Jackson Speller brought up the issue of stop and frisk policies that he said occur in the City of Kingston.

“A lot of these stopping, frisking things have been happening, especially in the Fourth Ward in Kingston,” he said. “Obviously, that doesn’t fall under your jurisdiction.  But we can set an example.” 

Sheriff Juan Figueroa was on hand to respond to each of the participants’ concerns, including Speller’s.

“I’m Puerto Rican, I get it,” he said. “All we can do is train and use our rights to tell people. If that means doing a personnel complaint against the officer, that’s the system and you do a personnel complaint in my office, they’re going to be held accountable, I can assure you that.” 

Sheriff Figueroa also added that the department has been undergoing a more comprehensive racial bias training program, which includes a symposium on implicit bias that was held with the help of the State University of New York in New Paltz and Ulster. 

Resident Donn Avallone suggested a licensing program for police officers, which would allow for officers to face losing their license were they to engage in police misconduct. 

“One of the things that we’ve seen for those bad apples in police departments, when they are fired from one police department, they move down the river and they get a job and another one,” he said, “and if they were licensed by the state, they would lose their license and they would be they would not be able to be hired by another police department.”

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