Lawmakers reject police reform efforts

Seal of St. Lawrence County. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — A pair of resolutions in response to state and nationwide calls for police reform passed the Finance Committee of the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday night.

Proposed by Finance Chair Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, the first resolution passed unanimously and declared opposition to state legislation that would require police officers to maintain private liability insurance and would exclude officers from being held harmless should they be subject to legal judgments filed in state or federal court.

With active bills sponsored earlier this month and now in committee discussions in the state Senate and Assembly, the liability insurance legislation would amend state General Municipal Law, requiring any city, county, town, village, authority or agency employing police officers to cover the base rate of a liability insurance policy.

“Officers who engage in misconduct, and as a result have claims brought against them will see their premium go up, creating a financial disincentive for misconduct,” the state Senate’s legislative justification reads in part. “Officers who repeatedly engage in misconduct may see their rates go up until it becomes cost prohibitive, forcing officers to change behaviors or leave the field of law enforcement.”

County lawmakers expressed individual opposition to the potential legislation and general support of north country law enforcement,

“I think it’s very important as county legislators to send a message out there that we are not just behind our law enforcement community but we are actively opposed to this systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation against our law enforcement community,” James E. Reagan, R-Ogdensburg, said.

Rick Perkins, D-Potsdam, said he fully supports the resolution and asked to be added as a co-sponsor, as did Rita E. Curran, R-Massena.

“I don’t think we should ask people who put their lives on the line to have to pony up the money for this insurance,” Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam, said. “It seems like maybe this is something that wouldn’t apply to our area as much.”

A second resolution proposed by Mr. Acres passed unanimously, discouraging local governments from defunding or abolishing police departments.

“The misconduct and bias of some law enforcement officers demonstrates the need for reform, but efforts to defund or abolish police departments gives credence to the incorrect notion that law enforcement is harmful to local communities, rather than a cornerstone of a safe and prosperous society,” the resolution reads in part.

During discussion, Mrs. Haggard proposed an amendment to remove the first paragraph of the resolution, eliminating what she said she perceived as “politicalization” of calls for defunding police departments.

Passed by lawmakers, the amendment removed the first section of the resolution, which read: “Recent incidents of injuries to and deaths of civilians in encounters with law enforcement officers have justifiably drawn attention to the organization and funding of police departments and some advocates for change are going beyond calls for reforms, however, by demanding that local police departments be defunded or abolished.”

“I really hate this term ‘defunding the police,’” Mrs. Haggard said. “Unfortunately, it’s taken on some kind of meaning that just, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Larry D. Denesha, R-DeKalb, said he thinks the resolution is an opportunity to “show our support as a board for law enforcement agencies.”

Copies of each resolution are set to be sent to the offices of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state Sens. Joe Griffo, Patricia Ritchie and Elizabeth “Betty” Little, and Assemblymen Mark Walczyk, Billy Jones, Robert Smullen and Ken Blankenbush.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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