• Rich Klein

Undersheriff Chaboty: 1st Draft Of Reform Plan Ready This Friday

Updated: Mar 17

(This is a developing story)

Sheriff Michael Schiff , at right, with Undersheriff Eric Chaboty at a Coffee With The Sheriff in Fallsburg in 2019


MONTICELLO - In a hastily-called private meeting for 6 pm last night, Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty told a small group of invited residents and officials that a first draft of the Sullivan County's Sheriff's Office written police reform plan - that's due in Albany by April 1 - will be made available to the public by this Friday.


Chaboty privately messaged/emailed select members of the community to visit the Sheriff's Office or call into a Zoom number that was not made available to the public.


Chaboty said that an online survey soliciting feedback from citizens about the Sheriff's Office resulted in 362 responses - out of a population of 75,000 residents in Sullivan County. That survey was only made public online in late February by the Sheriff's Office. Chaboty said the results were representative of every town in the County. (The online survey was closed for any new feedback on Monday when The SullivanTimes tested it during the day).


But multiple residents last night questioned how a survey with just 362 responses is representative of the County's population. Chaboty responded that he has also previously held meetings on the police reform plan with residents and stakeholders in Hankins and Bloomingburg - in addition to the one held tonight at the Sheriff's office in Monticello. Monday's meeting was to be the final meeting that would engage the public in real time, Chaboty said, adding that he previously held a meeting with town supervisors. Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo's call for transparency, though, the public has not seen videos or notes from any of the meetings.


"While the conflict is real and the issues are complicated, we know in New York that denial or avoidance is not a successful strategy," Cuomo said in the guidance document for police agencies in August. And in a letter sent August 17 to the Sheriff's Office and nearly all other law enforcement agencies in the state, Cuomo wrote:


“Collaborative” is the key word. It would be a mistake to frame these discussions as an adversarial process or an effort to impose top-down solutions. Issues must be aired but solutions must be crafted."


At the meeting last night, Chaboty received an earful about the short notice regarding the meeting and the limited audience invited to and permitted into the Zoom portion of meeting.


Chaboty also was criticized for not beginning the plan - formerly known as New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative - until very late in the process, since Cuomo issued the executive order last June.


Sandra Johnson-Fields, president of Sullivan County's NAACP, could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday about the Sheriff's reform plan. But in November, she told WJFF: "It appears we are being blocked from being at the table (at multiple local law enforcement agencies) and we are not understanding why." It was unclear at press time if that has changed since November.


Elaine Williams, a member of the NAACP for more than three decades and former head of the Sullivan County chapter of the NAACP, told Chaboty that "the Black community has issues (in Sullivan with law enforcement) and they've always had issues" and those issues date back to the 1960's.


Williams said that it's "a complete lie" to say that there are no problems with law enforcement in Sullivan County. She added: "There needs to be some reform. We know that as a community of color, there's no justice for us. There's no justice in the court, there's no justice in the DA's office and there's no justice in the police department..there's no justice, period for us and people need to understand that. "


Williams told Chaboty (and Sheriff Michael Schiff) that many in the Black community would be reluctant to criticize any law enforcement agency via a survey because they would fear being identified and retaliated against.


Neither Schiff or Chaboty responded directly to Williams' concern, but Chaboty said that the plan that's released later this week will also solicit additional public comment - but only by email. It will then be submitted to the County Legislature for final approval. Judy Balaban, a former co-chair and commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, said that left little time for additional public input.


The Undersheriff also spent much of his time blaming the Governor's Office for a lack of direction with the executive order. Yet, the order has been in place since June.


"You're the only municipality in Sullivan County that has not submitted a draft plan," said Fallsburg native Dayna Halprin, noting that all other police agencies had already done so. Halprin added that they, along with some other residents, participated with some of those agencies in a collaborative effort. One example that The SullivanTimes was made aware of was a Zoom call last month regarding the Fallsburg Police Department that included Police Chief Simmie Williams and with Halprin making suggested written edits into the draft document.


Halprin, on behalf of the Committee for Equity & Justice that they lead, submitted recommendations to the Sheriff's Office.


Among the participants /listeners at the meeting last night included Legislators Luis Alvarez and Nicholas Salomone Jr., as well as Adrienne Jensen, the county's new executive director of the Human Rights Commission, District Attorney Meagan Galligan and County Manager Josh Potosek.


Here's the letter that Governor Cuomo sent to law enforcement agencies on August 17, 2020.

Here's the guidance provided by the state to law enforcement agencies, also in August 2020.


DEVELOPING STORY

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