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Protesters challenge St. Lawrence County’s police reform plan

Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 3:15 PM EDT
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CANTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - A protest in St. Lawrence County is challenging a police reform plan that has already been ratified by the county legislature. Protesters say it doesn’t do enough.

Protesters say the sheriff has to do more when it comes to his police reform plan. They say it doesn’t address racial bias and doesn’t provide for true citizen input.

“Specifically, it didn’t collaborate with members of the community, or people of color, didn’t ask them their experiences with the police. We believe that this process is incomplete,” said Teresa Veramendi, North Country Poor People’s Campaign leadership committee.

In front of the county courthouse, members of the North Country Poor People’s Campaign protested what they said was a lack of transparency in the process.

“They say that there is a police reform package that they have presumably sent to Albany. We haven’t seen it,” said John Tenbusch, North Country Poor People’s Campaign leadership committee.

The sheriff’s reform plan was approved by the county legislature December 21. Governor Cuomo required all police departments to come up with one.

Sheriff Books Bigwarfe did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. But in October he said, “Everybody’s not perfect, and if there’s something we could improve upon, this police reform gives you that template, roadmap for doing that. And that’s what we’re going to do moving forward.”

Thursday is the deadline for 500 police agencies around the state to submit their reform plans to the state.

There’s a lot riding on this. The state required each police department to follow its guidelines for coming up with plans. If they didn’t, state funding could be in danger.

The protesters say there needs to be some kind of citizens advisory and review board for the sheriff’s department to promote ongoing dialogue.

“As far as I can tell from my conversations with Sheriff Bigwarfe, there seems to be no regimented system for dealing with police complaints. All he told me was he takes care of it,” said Veramendi.

The North Country Poor People’s Campaign is applauding the sheriff’s adoption of body cameras. That was part of Bigwarfe’s reform plan. Officers are now wearing those on patrol.

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