St. Lawrence Sheriff’s Office hosts police reform forum

St. Lawrence County sheriff’s vehicles are parked outside the county Public Safety Complex in Canton. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, like law enforcement agencies across the state, is working to review policies in compliance with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s June Executive Order 203.

Together with St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chair Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe hosted the first meeting with county stakeholders Tuesday. A “diverse cross section” of community members, according to the sheriff’s office, were invited to participate in initial conversations.

A second meeting will be hosted next week, and the general public is invited to attend in person at 6 p.m. Wednesday, in the county Legislature Chambers, 48 Court St., Canton. Those interested in attending virtually via a Zoom Technologies video conference, should contact the sheriff’s office at 315-379-2365 to receive a meeting link.

The sheriff’s office reports its review is guided by model policies set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services and the state Law Enforcement Agency Accreditation Council, a governor-appointed group that adopts standards, sets policy and has exclusive authority to grant accreditation to law enforcement agencies through an extensive review process.

With the sheriff’s office being granted accreditation Sept. 3, St. Lawrence County now has three state-accredited law enforcement agencies — SUNY Potsdam University Police and the Canton Village Police Department are each accredited.

Titled New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative and part of the governor’s “Say Their Name” police reform agenda, the governor’s order followed the May 25 killing of 46-year-old George P. Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Reviews are expected to culminate with improvement plans by April 1, in order for agencies to be eligible for state funding next year. Plans must be developed in collaboration with the public through an “open process on policing strategies and tools” and receive public comment before any proposed changes are presented to local municipal bodies for approval.

Plans must address the law enforcement agency’s use of force, crowd management, community policing, implicit bias awareness and de-escalation training, restorative justice practices, community outreach, a transparent citizen complaint procedure and other issues specific to each community.

More information about the executive order and specific reform guidelines are viewable on the governor’s website.

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