Message from Director Daniel Cornell:
Thank you for your interest in the Tompkins County Department of Probation and Community Justice Annual Report for 2020.
As a Department we entered 2020 with the January 30th retirement of Probation Director Patricia Buechel, who over the last decade of her career had been recognized as a leader in the probation field on the national, state and local levels. Her departure undoubtedly left a sense of uncertainty for many in an agency that had enjoyed a long period of stability under her leadership. In addition to adjusting to the loss of our Director, we anticipated that the inception of NYS Bail Reform would be our most immediate challenge in 2020. By March, any concerns about the impacts of Bail Reform were completely eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis.
Having taken on the role of Director on February 1, 2020, I knew that I had been gifted with a hardworking, compassionate, and dedicated group of probation professionals to lead. What I learned since March of 2020 is that I did not understand a fraction of how fortunate I was to be able to work with the staff of this agency. Since COVID we have endured an Executive Order mandating a 50% reduction in our office workforce, significant furloughs of staff, an 11% budget cut for 2021, the loss of two colleagues to retirement, the loss two other colleagues to budget cuts, and the loss of an additional two critical staff to transfers to other departments. The response of every remaining employee of this department has been to dig deeper, work harder, remain positive, and find new ways to solve challenges rather than wallow in them.
We decided very early on that the primary focus of our mission during COVID would be enhancing community safety by remaining open for face-to-face contact with our clients so that we could continue to provide as much support and stability as possible during very uncertain times. Despite the limitations on being in the office 50% of the time due to furloughs or Executive Orders, every officer of this department supervised 100% of their caseload. In addition to maintaining those primary duties, staff of this department volunteered and delivered hundreds of food boxes for Foodnet of the Southern Tier, snack baskets to first responders, hundreds of meals to Meals on Wheels recipients, and provided countless hours of COVID-19 Contact Tracing to assist Health Department staff during the height of the pandemic, helped to staff vaccination sites, collected, sorted and distributed gifts for the Cops, Kids and Toys program, developed and donated to an internal program to assist clients suffering from food insecurity, and engaged in numerous morale lifting activities within the department. In short, when the community was in need, probation staff gave all that they had to give. When we were in need we assisted and supported each other. I will be forever impressed by and grateful to every member of this Department. I would also like to recognize the leadership of County Administrator Jason Molino, and the County Administration team who supported our efforts without fail or hesitation.
The following Annual Report contains a record of events with graphs, charts and visual aids that paint a picture of our work in 2020. Many will look at the pages that follow to gauge our work. What those measurables do not document or display are, in my opinion, the more important story of 2020. As the pandemic wanes and we can begin to look back at our accomplishments, I am certain that the challenges and lessons learned over the past year have only increased our resilience, resolve and abilities to be effective ambassadors for positive change in Tompkins County.
As a community we have all been through some difficult times, particularly those who were experiencing hardships before the pandemic exacerbated those challenges. For that reason, I would like to sincerely thank and recognize the clients of this department who despite all of the obstacles that they encountered continued to meet their probation requirements and fought to maintain their progress. While we are here to provide professional guidance and support to encourage change, we also recognize and have immense respect for our clients who work so hard to commit themselves to changing behaviors and improving their lives.
Daniel J. Cornell Probation Director