KINGSTON – After a year of race riots, exacerbated by the death of George Floyd, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan signed a justice and reform plan after counties were mandated by an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to produce a report with local recommendations.
“This is something we had already begun work on,” said Ryan. “It’s a multi-year plan to end mass incarceration, systemic racial bias, and to improve and heal the relationships between the community and police.”
Ryan said there are five-year goals to make structural and systemic changes like jail staffing and the inmate population.
“That will potentially take years to work through,” said Ryan, “and other big structural items.”
Sheriff Juan Figueroa served on a commission that came up with reform recommendations.
“I believe it was time to look at ourselves in the mirror to make the adjustments that are needed that the community wanted,” said Figueroa, who has worked to bring more diversity to his department. “The only way to change the office is from within.”
The sheriff said deputies will be given business cards with their names and help the public with case numbers during a call. There were also complaints of racial bias and marijuana, which was legalized in the state Wednesday with Cuomo’s signature.
“One of the complaints we had, quite a few from the community, was that every time a person of color was stopped because it smelled like marijuana.”
Figueroa said protocols will be developed to look at this issue as the state moves away from the criminality of the recreational drug to allowing for its commercial sale to those 21 and over.
“Those are things that I think will improve our relationship with our community,” he said.