Due To Sheriff’s Son’s Case,
Psychological Test Upgraded
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Rebounding from the year-long investigation of Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr.’s son, Otsego County may have gotten a head start in meeting the wide-ranging reforms coming out of Albany, said county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield.
Last year, the county already upgraded pre-employment testing for correctional offices, deputies, parole officers – “anyone who carries a gun,” said Bliss, when asked about Governor Cuomo’s executive order and new laws the state Legislature enacted last week in the wake of national tumult caused by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while being taken into custody.
“Yes and no,” Bliss replied when asked of former correctional officer Ros Devlin’s situation – an outburst in the county jail’s break room that eventually led to his resignation – prompted last year’s reforms. “It was probably instigated because of that, but it wasn’t a direct result,” he said.
Interviews this week indicated the three largest local governments – the county itself, the City of Oneonta and Village of Cooperstown – are already considering specific steps to respond to the new directives.
Over the past several days, Governor Cuomo signs several pieces that quickly moved through the state Legislature last week, including banning chokeholds, opening police disciplinary records for public review, and more.
He also issued an executive order requiring police departments to work with their local communities on “a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs,” and to submit it to Albany by next April 1 or lose state funding for law enforcement.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, a Democrat, said Cuomo’s executive order “works hand in hand with what we’re trying to do, so I think it will be helpful.”
Herzig and OPD Chief Doug Brenner have proposed a Community Advisory Board to review police policies and practices. The mayor plans to discuss the concept with Common Council’s Planning Committee June 29, and bring it before the full council when it next meets on July 7.
In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, also a Democrat, said “I 100 percent think it’s a good idea.” As for the April 1 deadline, she said, “The village doesn’t receive police department funding from the state, but that doesn’t negate this.”
Tillapaugh said she’s planning “a community group. That’s always the best thing, when you involve the community.” In addition to herself, the group might include the village’s two officers, a mental health expert, someone from Bassett, “a faith leader,” and a selection of village residents. A new police chief, when hired, would also be included.
For his part, Bliss said, “The executive order – it will mean what we are already doing,” said Bliss. “We already have a review in process. We haven’t had any accusation of those types, which I hope means we’re doing this well.”
He said he will ask county Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, who chairs the county board’s Public Safety & Legal Affairs Committee, to take the lead in meeting the governor’s order and implementing the legislation. Wilber did not return calls.
Sheriff Devlin said he’s participated in several conference calls set up by the state Sheriff’s Association, and is waiting for guidance from the association on how to move forward.
“We already review policy and procedures, annually or every other year,” he said, “and go by the best practices. A lot of those things (enacted last week) are already occurring.”
The sheriff said no complaints against the department are pending right now. “You get complaints from time to time, he said. “Those are investigated. Knock on wood, fortunately we haven’t had a use of force incident in some time.” They usually occur when a suspect resists being taken into custody, he said.