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Members Of Schenectady City Council Seek More Info On Oversight Board Report

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall (file photo)

As a state mandated committee reviews police policies and procedures in Schenectady, the city’s existing Civilian Police Review Board is suggesting its own improvements.

In January, Schenectady’s Civilian Police Review Board submitted to the city council a report on a number of possible changes related to the board, which for years has been tasked with fostering communication between the city police department and the public.

Richard Shave is chair of the nine-member CPRB. Along with CPRB co-chair Carl Williams, he also serves on the city’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative steering committee, which has been examining police procedures over the last several months.

“It was obvious to Carl and I that it’s time to look at CPRB. People are asking, because all of a sudden people are caring,” said Shave.

The report lists eight categories for changes and a breakdown of how CPRB members felt on the issues with a simple Yes or No count.

Monday night, during a discussion on the report, some members of the city council questioned items within the report and even the timing of the report itself.

Councilor Carmel Patrick, who agreed with some items in the report, wanted to know more about why some members of the CPRB were supportive of a proposed change to remove redactions to police complaint investigatory source material.

Recalling several officers dismissed under Police Chief Eric Clifford, Patrick praised the chief’s handling of personnel matters.

“To me, it seems like he’s doing a pretty good job of holding his officers accountable. And given the fact that the Review Board hasn’t really ever questioned his decision, I want to talk to them a little bit more about why now are they not trusting those decisions,” said Patrick.

Another point that drew some scrutiny from members was the proposal to extend the police complaint form submission deadline from 45 days to six months.

Councilor Marion Porterfield said she did not equate support for changes to the CPRB regarding oversight of police complaints with mistrust in city policing.

“It’s not an indictment against Chief Eric Clifford or the job that he’s doing, or the Schenectady Police Department, it’s simply taking a look. And if we’re really, really, everything comfortable that everything is fine, I’m not sure why the opposition to taking a look,” said Porterfield.

Patrick later clarified her comment regarding mistrust.

“It’s my perception – I’ll just say it that way – in my way of reading and my perception of this, the way that it’s presented to us – to me – seems like it’s promoting a mistrust,” said Patrick.

Asked by WAMC about the perception of mistrust, Shave, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, said the CPRB’s role in providing oversight is meant to build trust. Shave was also supportive of Chief Clifford.

“Chief Clifford’s doing a pretty good job. There’s 130 policemen and there’s certainly misconduct that goes on, but it’s being investigated. And all citizens’ complaints, even down to the smallest amounts of discourtesy, you wouldn’t believe how much work they do to make sure to understand what happened and can correct it. So when we’re looking for more visibility, that’s just to try build more trust,” said Shave.

At the close of Monday’s meeting, City Council President John Mootooveren said he would reach out to the chair and vice chair of the CPRB for more information on the report, and suggested he would invite them to appear at an upcoming public safety committee meeting to take questions from the council.

Full text of the CPRB report is posted below:

CPRB Report to City Council:  1/19/21

Dick Shave – League of Women Voters

Carl Williams – NAACP

Rose Harrell – Mayor’s Office

Damond Heath – City Council

Pauline Kent – Schenectady Housing Authority

Maureen Obie – Schenectady Community Ministries

Sheila Rivera – Schenectady United Neighborhoods

James Dagostino – Chamber of Commerce

Miriam Cajuste – Human Rights Commission

The Schenectady Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative has been working since last Summer to review and amend, if necessary, all aspects of policing in Schenectady.  Naturally, CPRB policies were to be examined and perhaps updated as part of this process.  Our board decided to work together independently of the Collaborative to propose a set of improvements that might serve as a basis for government discussion and action.

We met in a series of three two-hour meetings (via Zoom) to discuss all ideas brought forward.  After discussion, a list was created with each idea formalized as a possible change.  Then, in the last meeting we voted on each proposal – not as the final word but to show the degree of board support for each idea.  Below is a summary.

Proposals for Changes to CPRB Policies and Procedures

Here is the list of possible changes that have been proposed and discussed.  We voted on each proposal.    City Council is invited to modify, as they deem appropriate, to our bylaws, procedures, and policies in support of these ideas.

Some of the proposals represent options – in recruitment for example.  Members were not required to vote on only one option if more than one was deemed acceptable.  Although eight of our nine members were present, one left early and missed the voting. 

#1 Recruitment Options:

     1A.  Keep current procedure (Group Nominations)

             0 Yes, 7 No

1B.   Keep current procedure but require each nominating group to designate a substitute member, who would be trained and attend when the primary member cannot.

      4 Yes, 3 No

1C.   Allow Open Self-Nomination, with or without group support, directly to City-Council, the Mayor’s Office, a committee, or wherever else deemed appropriate.  Perhaps give greater weight to those with written group support.

      4 Yes, 3 No

1D.  Increase CPRB Board size from nine to fifteen.

      3 Yes 2 No

#2. Changes to Redaction Policies:

                2A.  Remove redactions to personnel complaint investigatory source material – excluding complaints in litigation, confidential informant, and/or undercover officers’ identifiable information - to include but not limited to providing CPRB members access to identifiable information related to Schenectady law enforcement officers, complainants, and any remaining third-party persons. *NOTE: CPRB members will be required to sign non-disclosure agreement(s) with SPD and will recuse themselves, as needed.     4 Yes, 3 No

                2B.  Make Schenectady law enforcement officers’ personal files available upon written request from the CPRB, Chair or Vice-Chair and/or openly accessible virtually. *NOTE: CPRB members will utilize information to make informed assessments of personnel complaints.

        4 Yes, 3 No

                2C.  Grant the CPRB the ability to formally request/schedule time to view personnel complaint investigatory source material – excluding complaints in litigation, confidential informant, and/or undercover officers’ identifiable information - to include but not limited to BWC footage and recorded phone conversations.

        7 Yes

#3. Onboarding:  Define and implement better training for new members, including a New Member’s Handbook and a timeline for formal training by police.

        7 Yes

#4.  Vice-Chair:  Formalize the role in bylaws.

        7 Yes

#5.  Meeting Announcements: Make routine the notice of monthly and special meetings in appropriate media.

       7 Yes

#6.  Procedure for a Formal Annual Budget:   With deadlines for submission of requests, and training in how to properly disburse funds.

       6 Yes 1 No

#7.  Revise complaint form submission deadline from the current 45-day limit to 6-month limit.

       5 Yes 2 No

#8.  Formalize Board Officer election process.

       7 Yes

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