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Niskayuna Approves Police Reform Plan

The Town of Niskayuna approved a police reform plan on Tuesday
Town of Niskayuna/Image capture by WAMC

The Town of Niskayuna has approved its police reform plan under a New York State mandate. 

The suburban Schenectady County town has approved a police reform plan under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203 just before the April 1st deadline.

During Tuesday night’s town board meeting, attorney Alaina Finan provided an overview of the document developed over the last several months with involvement of an appointed reform collaborative. Subcommittees were established to examine policies related to the police department functions, “effective” policing strategies, community-oriented leadership, police culture and accountability, and staffing and recruitment.

Here’s Finan:

“Every single recommendation that was made by the collaborative is contained within the plan that the town board is considering this evening and the plan that will be submitted to the state,” said Finan.

The plan approved Tuesday included a series of recommendations, response to each recommendation by the town’s police department, and the findings of a racial bias audit that was presented to the town board last month.

During a February meeting, consultant Zoe Thorkildsen from the auditing firm CNA broke down the numbers, comparing arrest data between the town and the neighboring City of Schenectady:

“For Niskayuna residents, it’s 22 percent Black community members, and for Schenectady residents it’s 38 percent Black community members. And just as a comparison point, per the census, Black community members make up about 2.3 percent of the Niskayuna population, they make up about 20 percent of the Schenectady population,” said Thorkildsen.

Prior to introducing the measure to approve the reform plan Tuesday, Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed, a Republican, read into the record one letter of concern from a town resident who opposed the creation of a civilian police review board.

“‘I’m against the future setting of a civilian review board on Page 21, for the reason that nothing should interfere with a police officer’s right to a fair trial in a court of law,’” read Syed.

The reform plan calls for the creation of an independent Civilian Review Board. The report says such a board “should review all substantiated complaints of misconduct and settlements or adverse verdicts in lawsuits to improve policies and processes. The Civilian Review Board should report to the Niskayuna Town Board and the Supervisor. We recommend a Police General Order that ensures full cooperation with investigation.”

Town Board member Bill McPartlon, a Democrat, praised the efforts of the Niskayuna community in developing the plan.

“I think it’s only proper that we thank all the members and all the actual citizens from our community and all the efforts they put forth for this report and plan. And they spent a lot of time and a lot of hours on this and I personally want to thank them. I also want to thank all the council members for their work on this plan,” said McPartlon.

The plan was approved unanimously.  Supervisor Syed, in her comments praising the efforts of those involved, read from a state guidebook on steps moving forward from April 1st.

“‘You will need to continuously need to monitor and respond to community concerns with the police, public engagement should end on April 1, 2021. The collaborative is an important step in the process of building, maintaining, and strengthening the relationship between your police department and your community.’ And that is exactly where our mentality is at this point in time,” said Syed.

The town board also approved an amendment to the plan Tuesday night, adding language to include five members on an appointed implementation task force.

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