NYSPOA and Officer Safety and Survival Training (OSST)
Karen Birch represented the association in the statewide initiative designed to increase officer safety for Probation Officers in collaboration with the NYS Division of Parole, Division of NYS Department of Probation and Correctional Alternatives (DPCA), and the NYS Council of Probation Administrators (COPA). That program was named the Officer Safety and Survival Training, OSST. It was a three-day curriculum that was authored by Joseph Marchese (NYS Parole), Kathi Pallota (COPA), Steve Powers (DPCA), and Karen Birch (NYSPOA).
According to Ms. Birch, “the four of us spent a tremendous amount of time and research to develop this project and get it into the academy to be taught to all new PO’s being hired throughout the state. We obtained a grant from National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to assist us in putting together the curriculum. This was a big deal to those departments that did not offer safety training “in house”. In Westchester County, they taught in house safety training, and a few other departments offered this in house as well. However, there were many, many departments that simply refused to acknowledge that safety training was necessary during those times.”
“This project was successfully completed but not without climbing several mountains, as there were people in positions who did not want this to come to fruition. We succeeded and in November 2003, the OSST Program was awarded the Innovative Program Award from the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel. Then in November 2004, we were awarded the “Excellence in Practice Award” from the New York State Training Council. The four of us were invited to the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, where we were honored in a ceremony and presented with this award for the development of the OSST Program. We also presented this OSST project in workshops at several national conferences for many years.”
In clarification about the NIC grant, Joe Marchese wrote the grant on behalf of those working on the OSST initiative. Mr. Marchese worked for NIC in the past in Colorado and had a lot of involvement and experience with NIC. Ms. Birch also attended the Training Design and Development Training Program in Colorado at the NIC academy and was a NIC Regional Field Coordinator, Northeast Region (Maine to Virginia) for several years. At the time, NYSPOA could not obtain a grant because the association was not an “agency”, therefore, Mr. Marchese wrote the grant proposal in the Department of Probation and Correctional Alternative’s (DPCA) name. It made the most sense to be in DPCA’s name and not in Parole, since it was going to be a Probation OSST Training Program. Renee Bergeron was a retired Probation trainer from South Carolina and she also reviewed our work on the OSST program (she was part of NIC and our grant).
NIC showcased the NYS OSST Program by hosting it at their NIC Information Center for other departments to use as a model throughout the country.
After OSST was finally developed and passed a million inspections by everyone under the sun and put into publication, we travelled across the state to develop competency from within. We wanted Probation Officers to be the trainers for OSST. We didn’t want it to become a program that trainers taught that were not actually doing the job, so we went to many counties training officers to become OSST trainers.
Ms. Birch and Mr. Marchese met with Marty Cirincione (Parole at that time and later DCJS and previously DPCA director) to gain his support and collaboration to increase the safety for community supervision officers. The OSST model idea was released at a conference in Elmira, New York and Marty Cirincione (Parole at that time and later DCJS and previously DPCA director) delivered a power point presentation outlining an upcoming collaboration between Probation and Parole that would greatly enhance officer safety in NYS.
The Legal Defense Fund
The Legal Defense Fund was co-authored by Karen Birch (Putnam County) and Roy Spina (Onondaga County) during the early 2000’s. The association determined there was a need to establish and offer this member benefit because “at that time, there were few counties who assisted their officers in this critical area (Birch 2019).” Both Karen and Roy worked on developing this very important initiative and refer to an incident that occurred in Westchester County as the driving force behind the developing of this fund for its members. The referenced incident in Westchester County involved Probation Officer Eddie Ramirez as he was backing up County Police Officer Ray Bravo, who was doing security for the county’s office building. They both were responding to a machete-wielding EDP who was in front of the Probation building on June 22, 2000. The individual charged towards the two officers forcing them to defend themselves by discharging their service weapons. The Union representing the Westchester County Probation Department, failed to respond in a meaningful way. They provided no legal counsel or advice, and refused to represent Officer Ramirez at the scene of the incident. Fortunately, one of the department’s officers was able to get legal counsel for PO Ramirez. This fact made it clear that a probation officer had to rely on other means for legal representation and protection if an incident occurred, whereas other law enforcement agencies and unions had protocols and protections available to them.
The Legal Defense Fund policy, procedures, and pamphlet was eventually updated from 2000 in July 2019.
New York State & Local Retirement System: A Special 25-Year Plan for County Probation Department Peace Officers (Sections 89-t and 603(p) – Effective January 1, 1999
This special retirement plan passed the New York State Legislature in July 1998 – Wayne D’Arcy was President, Larry Evans Legislative Chair – “Fortunately, the Senate Majority Leader at the time, Joe Bruno was from Troy, New York, which gave us an inside track. The day the legislation passed I, (Wayne D’Arcy) was on the phone with Bruno’s office all day. But it was a joint effort by the board, pressing all their reps that made the difference. We ran into a lot of opposition along the way, but prevailed in the end! The frustrating part was that, we were largely responsible for its passage, but CSEA took all the credit. But at least it finally passed after years of effort.” (NYSPOA President 1996-2000 Wayne D’Arcy)