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Schenectady city councilors get update on school board-approved hiring of school police officers

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the city council Public Safety Committee.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the city council Public Safety Committee.

The Schenectady City Council‘s Public Safety Committee met Monday evening. The agenda included a review of a new agreement to place police officers in the city schools.

At the end of March, the Schenectady City Schools Board of Education approved an agreement to hire six full-time city police officers during school hours, following a months-long pilot program. After weeks of discussion and controversy, the Board of Education approved the contract 4 to 3.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford presented the plan to city council Public Safety Committee Monday.

"On any given day, population of Schenectady High School is approximately 2,800 students and staff," Clifford said. "In the lower and middle schools that numbers of approximately 780. Mount Pleasant, 870. Steinmetz, 350. Central Park middle school 800. And that's just those schools right there. So concentrated populations of any of this size, anywhere within the city, would always be met with a threat assessment from the police department. “

The $300,000 contract employs officers through June 2025. The agreement is described as being "an attempt to deter criminal behavior through positive interactions with students" and in line with goals set through a state-mandated police reform plan approved by the Schenectady City Council in March 2021.

Clifford noted that district officials recognized officers were needed to address a looming safety crisis.

During a March 30 Board of Education meeting, board member Jamaica Miles, a prominent local Black Lives Matter activist who often demonstrates against policing, cited data showing a disproportionate impact of police interventions in schools on Black and brown students.

Miles said "There is no data that shows police officers inside our schools will make them safer. There is data that has been shared repeatedly that shows the harm that is caused to our students when police officers are inside our buildings."

Clifford told committee members that Mayor Gary McCarthy and School Superintendent Anibal Soler are both on board with the idea of placing officers in schools.

"Students who trust officers will bring problems to them that they have for justice, guidance or counseling," said Clifford. "Another important piece is that, we want access to the police department to be there for the students, if they need it, if they don't feel comfortable giving it at home or being able to call and get the police officers.”

After Clifford concluded, the committee decided to revisit the plan during a future meeting.

According to the contract, the permanent officers are scheduled to be on site starting in September.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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