KINGSTON, N.Y. — Ulster County District Attorney David Clegg has pledged to not accept campaign endorsements or contributions from police unions.
Clegg joined more than 40 elected prosecutors from across the country, including district attorneys and a state attorney general, in signing a letter rejecting police union endorsements and campaign contributions. The letter, released Monday, was circulated and organized by The Justice Collaborative.
The collaborative, according to its website, supplies legal, policy, communications and networking support to leaders and organizers “working to end dehumanization and extreme vulnerability.” The organization also released a report making the case for elected prosecutors to maintain their professional and ethical independence from law enforcement.
“It’s mainly about building trust for the community,” Clegg said Monday of his reason for signing the letter. He said people might see campaign contributions as a way to influence how prosecutors do their jobs.
Clegg, a Democrat who was elected last November and began his first four-year term in January, said he has not taken any campaign contributions from police unions and will not in the future.
“Across the country, ongoing protests against police brutality and racial oppression have sent a loud and clear message that change is needed,” the letter released by The Justice Collaborative states. “Protestors have drawn critical attention to a criminal legal system that has caused immense pain and injustice and does not even aim to keep all of us safe. More importantly, these protests have forced us to reckon with our responsibility to build trust between our communities and those operating within this system.
“As key actors in that system, we cannot cling to the status quo and pretend there are no issues with the way things have been done,” the letter adds. “We need to change by separating ourselves from law enforcement unions.”
The letter’s signers said they were committing to not accept campaign endorsements or contributions from police unions going forward because such things “send a message.”
“They tell citizens that the candidate — in this case, a prosecutor seeking election — aligns with the values and interests of the donor or endorser,” the letter states.
The only other New York prosecutor to sign the letter was Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, also a Democrat.
Clegg said he wants Ulster County residents to know they can trust what his office does. He said his office works fully with law enforcement but that there is no need for him to accept campaign donations from police unions.
The letter states that in recent weeks, police unions have been the “most vocal opponents of reasonable reforms and necessary changes.”
“It has become increasingly clear that — despite what they might say — the interest being advanced by police unions is not the safety of our communities, but rather protecting themselves and maintaining the harmful, broken criminal legal system,” the letter states. “We cannot accept that and we will not be tied, or perceived as beholden, to it.”
It also states that the signers cannot ignore the conflicts of interest that campaign contributions from law enforcement can create.
Clegg said he does not see that as an issue locally. He said police unions serve a purpose, including protecting the people they represent. He also said he currently is serving on four different police reform commissions, including for Ulster County.
The full letter, and information about those who signed it, or declined to do so, is online at dumpcopcash.com.