CLIFTON PARK -- Town Board members unanimously approved a resolution last Tuesday night to support a bill sponsored by New York state Senator Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, that addresses privacy for first responders present at a crime scene.
If passed, Senate bill S7280 would ensure privacy protections for all emergency personnel present at a crime scene including members of ambulance or advanced life support services, certified first responders, firefighters, emergency medical technicians or advanced emergency medical technicians, who are either employed by or enrolled members of any such service.
The current bail reform law which took effect on Jan. 1 protects law enforcement personnel by prohibiting the disclosure of their names and contact information during the criminal discovery process to protect them and their families from threats.
However, according to Tedisco's proposal, the same protections are not currently extended to first responders, who are in many instances called upon to provide services at crime scenes.
Speaking during the town board’s meeting last Tuesday night, Tedisco said that protecting the people whose job it is to protect the public is critical and should be a priority.
“When we don’t keep safe those people who keep us safe, law enforcement and first responders, then we’re not keeping ourselves safe,” he said.
Tedisco also touched on the larger issues that he has with the recently approved state-wide bail reform laws that took effect on Jan. 1.
The criminal justice system changes that were approved by the New York state Legislature earlier this year not only include bail reform, but will also allow most defendants charged with either low-level or nonviolent crimes to be released after their arraignment without having to post bail.
In November, Tedisco and state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, announced a bipartisan bill they said “strikes a balance on providing bail reform while allowing greater judicial discretion to ensure public safety.”
The Tedisco and Santabarbara bill would let a judge make an “appropriate risk assessment based on a defendant’s prior felony convictions, a failure to make a court appearance, or a subsequent arrest while awaiting a preliminary hearing or trial.”
Other local officials have come out in support of returning discretionary powers to judges, including Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple and Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo.
However, other local advocates and lawyers feel such measures are nothing more than a way to make sure the current bail system stays in place. The cash bail system now, they say, typically targets lower income people who can't afford to pay even minimum bail fines.
The town board passed the resolution supporting Tedisco’s first responder bill unanimously, Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said during the meeting that there have in recent weeks been multiple incidents during which the removal of bail has put people who were already victims of alleged crimes directly in harm’s way again.
“I don’t think the right approach is to completely overhaul the criminal justice system and then place law abiding people in danger. That certainly isn’t the correct route to take when trying to right these wrongs that the proponents of these bills are talking about,” Barrett said.
He added that the board took up the resolution to support Tedisco’s bill out of a desire to assist emergency responders in making their jobs safer and easier.
“We need to defend our first responders who already have a difficult job as it is, protecting us each and every day,” he said.