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Essex County sheriff submits ethics policy

ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County has officially adopted and submitted to the state a new county sheriff’s department policy that sets a Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and specifies when deadly force may be used.

Called “The Reform and Reinvention of Policing,” the 33-page plan was mandated by an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that tied filing a plan to receiving future state aid.

The county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan at its March regular meeting.

Deescalation, use of force

The plan calls for deescalation of situations before force is used, and says only the amount of force necessary to control a situation should be used.

There are also restrictions on the use of carotid control holds, one of which appears to be responsible for the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

It was Floyd’s death that triggered Cuomo’s executive order.

Strangulation techniques are already barred by state Executive Law 840.

Tenants for success

In the Essex County plan, deadly force is authorized to protect “from imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.” A fleeing suspect may also be shot if the officer has probable cause that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury.

The report also says deputies must enforce the law without racial or cultural bias or discrimination toward any individual or group.

The plan includes “Four Tenants for Success” in law enforcement: integrity, service, excellence and teamwork.

For integrity, the plan says to “always do what is right,” and service calls for deputies to “ensure everyone by our actions that they feel revered and listened to.” Excellence is defined as “a goal to strive for,” and teamwork is “the ability to work together for a common vision.”

In an online meeting of Essex County’s Law Enforcement Review Panel on eliminating biased-based policing, several community members, including persons of color, shared their views with Sheriff David Reynolds.

Lincoln Pond

One person on the conference, Nell Irvin Painter, an historian and author, lives in New Russia and has been in the Adirondacks for 17 years.

She mentioned a racist incident in Elizabethtown’s Lincoln Pond hamlet where a white Cohoes police officer falsely claimed he had engaged in a gun battle with Black teens walking by his house, when he’d actually shot a stump while allegedly intoxicated.

“I live on the same road,” Painter said. “Obviously, I’m Black. We have a young family of color. What if my nephews were here and took a walk up the hill? I’m a person with national visibility; if that, once in 17 years, had occurred to me, it would have been a real blot on our county.”

The officer, Sean McKown, 46, left the Cohoes force and was charged with the misdemeanors of third-degree falsely reporting an incident, prohibited use of a weapon, and discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling for the June 6, 2020 incident.

Hiring policy

Nicole Hylton-Patterson, director of Adirondack Diversity Institute, said she’d like to see an effort to hire the best people for the sheriff’s department.

“I recognize that it is very difficult. There needs to be a more robust approach, rather than putting it on the onus of the individual departments.”

Reynolds said applicants have to score high enough on the civil service test for him to hire them, but he strives to hire the best candidates for openings.

The plan had to filed with the state by April 1.

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