As Niagara County continues work on its state-mandated task force on police reform, reinvention of the Sheriff's Department moves to a meeting Wednesday evening at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Niagara Falls.
Every police agency in the state has to go through this process or face a cutoff of state cash. It gives outsiders the chance to look at police agencies and make suggestions for reform and reinvention.
Once the independent task force finishes its report, the Niagara County Legislature will evaluate the work and could re-work the report. By April 1, the final version has to go to Albany.
"The Sheriff's Department plays backup to the city department, so they're certainly there and present whenever requested or needed," said Legislature Chair Rebecca Wydysh. "So the residents there do see the Sheriff's Department and that's an important relationship to have. They need to be comfortable with the Sheriff's Department and know how it works, just like they do with their city police force."
Wydysh said the process has been going well, with prior sessions in Lockport and in Wheatfield.
"We had great turnout. We had the task force members there and our department heads, along with the Sheriff's Department and we had several members of the public come to speak," she said. "We've had some really great interactions back and forth. We've been able to share some ideas, answer some questions. The public has had some great questions for the sheriff, about how his department handles certain policies and procedures."
Wydysh said in recent years, the county has been working with the Sheriff's Department on an array of changes, including a push for more minority deputies and a diversion program for offenders.
"Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, LEAD. There's a program in the City of Albany which is the only other place in the state this is being used currently," Wydysh said, "and it's about offenders who repeat small, lower-level crimes, again and again. Things like petit larceny, to support possibly a substance abuse issue or a homelessness issue."
The Niagara Falls Police force also has to go through this process.