hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial December 2020- January 2021



Reviews of local police offer first step to reform


Let’s start by stressing that the vast majority of police officers in our region and elsewhere are good people doing work that can be difficult and dangerous.

Most of the time, they’re doing exactly what the public asks of them: They show up when we call for help, and they do their best to navigate a huge range of situations where the public’s safety is at stake – everything from neighborhood disputes to domestic violence, car crashes and major crimes.

So it would hardly be surprising if some of the police in our region feel they’re under siege after a year in which so many headlines, and so much public criticism, has focused on the problems and failures of the law enforcement system they serve.

But those problems and failures are real, and they need to be faced and fixed. Curing them might require major changes to the way we handle policing and public safety, even in local communities.

As our cover story this month details, local governments across eastern New York are in the process of reviewing the practices and policies of the police agencies they oversee -- the many city and village police departments and county sheriff’s offices in our area.

Under a state mandate imposed at the height of the summer protests over police brutality and racial injustice, every local government with a police agency is required to appoint a local stakeholder committee – involving a broad cross-section of the community – to guide these reviews and make recommendations for change.

The emphasis of the review process is on policies governing use of force, racial bias, conflict resolution, de-escalation tactics and other issues that have been at the center of the national debate over policing.

It’s too early to know whether this process will lead to any meaningful reform. But it’s encouraging to see that some of the more diverse urban communities in our region – the cities of Hudson, Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls – have at least made an effort to include representatives of groups that have had historically strained relationships with police: black and brown people, immigrants, those with mental health and addiction issues, and more.

At least in these communities, it appears likely that the review process will involve discussion of some of the real problems that have shaken public confidence in law enforcement.

Unfortunately many other communities in the region appear to be dragging their feet or doing as little as possible to fulfill the state’s requirements for considering police reform. In Saratoga County, for example, county supervisors appointed a stakeholder committee made up almost entirely of county employees and elected officials, all but one of them white. Does anyone think that committee will recommend bold changes?

We are well past the point of pretending that our law enforcement system treats everyone equally and that incidents like the killing of George Floyd are merely isolated cases. Nationally, the list of unarmed black man killed in police encounters over minor crimes is simply too long for anyone to deny that some level of racial bias is baked into the system. That list has included cases in our region – Edson Thevinen in Troy, Darryl Mount Jr. in Saratoga Springs, and more.

We should hope that the local government reviews now starting in New York will help lead us to a better, fairer system of protecting public safety in the years ahead.



Work for the Observer!