Niagara County lawmakers have approved the formation of a task force that will explore ways to reform the Sheriff's Office, and then submit a plan to Albany as required under a June executive order.
Back in June, at the height of tensions surrounding race relations and police brutality, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an order for local governments to submit a police reform plan by April 1, 2021 or lose state funding for their local police departments.
Acting Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti says his department had already begun examining its operations, weeks before the Niagara County Legislature passed a resolution detailing the makeup of the police reform task force.
"The team at the Sheriff's Office, as soon as that (order) went through we sat down, and figured out our strategy on what we needed to examine as far as policies, procedures, operations deployments, our policing strategies. That's been well underway at the Sheriff's Office for several weeks," he said. "And we've been meeting internally. I've had discussions with the other chiefs of police, on their progress and how they're doing with this."
Niagara County Legislature Chair Rebecca Wydysh will chair the task force. Filicetti says he will be a panelist, along with the Niagara County District Attorney, Public Defender, a representative of the Emergency Management Department, and at least one resident from each city and town within the county.
The cities of Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda have their own police departments, and the respective municipalities will form their own respective police reform task forces. But Filicetti says his deputies often assist police officers in those municipalities and, thus, some of the issues facing urban police officers are relevant to his department.
The acting sheriff notes that his department has not had implicit bias training but he intends to add it to overall mandatory training.
"Right now, we're working with Niagara Falls Police on a program called Building Bridges, and that's focused in the city of Niagara Falls in the minority community. I think it's important for us, even though we don't regularly police those areas. It's really about policing in general, and in the relationship with the community and the image of law enforcement," Filicetti said. " think it's important that we work with the city police and the town police departments to come up with similar plans. They're not going to be exact, but I think similar, because I think really what you're looking to do is make sure that you're policing properly. And I think that message carries across, whether it's a city or a sheriff's office, you want to make sure that you're doing the job the right way."
Filicetti adds that the county jail includes minorities within the population.
"I'm including a review of our entire corrections division as well," he said. "That's not required in this order. But I want to make sure that our criminal side of the house is working the same as our corrections division."
The acting sheriff noted that his department currently meets or exceeds state standards, having earned accreditations in all possible areas.