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Schenectady's Police Review Process Faces A Slow Start

Schenectady Police headquarters
Lucas Willard

A push is on to organize discussions in Schenectady to “reimagine” policing, under a directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In a year marked by demonstrations against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody in May, New York municipalities are bringing together community members to reshape their police policies. Plans must be submitted to the state by next April under an executive order by Governor Cuomo.

Capital Region communities like Albany and Saratoga Springs have for at least a month been holding meetings of their “reimagine” policing tasks forces.

Schenectady is still in its steering committee phase for its so-called Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.

Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city’s plan is to bring together a wide variety of stakeholders to meet separately to provide input to the Collaborative over the next couple of months.

“Neighborhood associations, business community, not-for-profits, other concerned entities within the community are going to meet separately. And we have moderators set up so they can discuss things that they think policing is doing right, some of the options that we have going forward, things that we should do differently…and then it will collectively come together at the end of the year, going into the first part of next year,” said McCarthy.

Schenectady has identified a long list of stakeholders it is interested in hearing from. But now, late into September, the city is lagging on getting organizations in on its plan. Confirmations are trickling in, some by snail mail.

City councilor Marion Porterfield, a Democrat, is also a member of the Schenectady NAACP. She wants the city to ensure identified groups provide an answer to the city quickly.

“We said the 18th, the 18th come and gone. It hasn’t been…So are we going to say that the September 30th end of the – no matter what – if you answered or you didn’t answered that we need to move forward? I don’t know that we have that drop-dead date but we definitely need it,” said Porterfield.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford said the city has accounted for the lag in getting community organizations together.  

“The timeline that was originally created was purposefully conservative to start early and give us a break between Thanksgiving and the New Year knowing that we might not meet that start date. So we left that flexibility on the back end. Because we want to have these conversations done and reported on hopefully by the first of the year so we that can start the discussions on what we’re going to do to address the concerns of the public,” said Clifford.

While Clifford and the city police department stepped up efforts to address community concerns after the death of George Floyd, protests intensified in July after city police officer Brian Pommer was filmed appearing to place his knee on a man’s neck and head during an arrest.

After a protest outside Schenectady City Hall on the night of July 13th, Chief Clifford clashed with the activist group All of Us. The group, which has continued to stage protests throughout the Capital Region – several which have stretched on into the night – was not included on the list of organizations Schenectady wants to hear from.

On Thursday, a day after protesters demonstrated in Schenectady against the city police union’s lawsuit to halt the release of Officer Pommer’s disciplinary records, Clifford said he plans on continuing to hold community conversations beyond the Collaborative’s effort.

“I’ll be talking to the mayor about holding town halls frequently so that we can get members of the community the opportunity to come speak to us. Because I believe there’s more than just one group of people that have concerns about policing in this community. And we want to give every group the opportunity to speak about what’s important to them,” said Clifford.

The city wants the Collaborative to have a policing plan ready for public comment in the spring, to allow for city council approval by the end of March, before it’s sent to the governor’s office. Cuomo says funding is at stake if cities don’t comply.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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