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Schenectady school board approves policing plan

An image capture of Wednesday's school board meeting in Schenectady
Schenectady City School District/Image capture by WAMC
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An image capture of Wednesday's school board meeting in Schenectady

The Schenectady City Schools Board of Education has approved an agreement to hire six full-time city police officers during school hours, following a months-long pilot program.

Following weeks of charged discussion, the Board of Education approved the contract 4 to 3.

Ahead of Wednesday night’s vote, several members of the Schenectady Police Department spoke about their positive experiences both attending and working in city schools during a five-month pilot Community Engagement Officer program.

City Police Chief Eric Clifford praised the plan developed in conjunction with district Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr., who came to Schenectady in July.

“If the plan that Superintendent Soler and I have worked out is not accepted, we will respect your decision. The Schenectady Police Department will still be there if called. What’s important for this board to know, that the safety concerns that have been brought to us is why we’re here, why we’re discussing this, that you are on notice that these concerns exist, and we are prepared to partner with you to solve them. Thank you,” said Clifford.

For two hours Wednesday, Schenectady school community members including parents, staff, and students spoke both for and against the contract agreement, which will hire six full-time police to serve during school hours and during special events and sports games.

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 as being in line with goals set through a state-mandated police reform plan approved by the Schenectady City Council in March 2021.

Girls Varsity Basketball Coach Carol Lupo welcomed the plan.

“In light of all that has happened, to bring a light into the injustices rendered on Black and brown people by police actions, I think it is commendable that the Schenectady Police Department and our school district are willing to work together to address matters and build a new relationship with the adults and students in this community,” said Lupo.

But others, including the two current students who spoke during Wednesday’s meeting, opposed the plan.

Schenectady High School Senior Trey Tillman said now is not the time to welcome more police into schools.

“There’s just too much trauma. There’s no relationship building. It’s just too much. And…but I do, for the foreseeable future…sorry I can’t speak. I’m so nervous, I don’t know why! But for the foreseeable future, I believe we should do things to build that relationship with the community, for cops to build that relationship,” said Tillman.

Letters from those who could not attend the lengthy meeting were entered into the record but were not read aloud.

The plan that divided school board members prompted a discussion on the effectiveness of policing in schools. School 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.

“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,” said Miles.

Superintendent Soler responded to multiple questions over contract details from the board. He reiterated that the contract allows the district to end the agreement with the city police department if necessary.

“The goal is that if it doesn’t work out, we walk away. And that was real important for us, me, in the contract to make sure that it was clear, that it was protected,” said Soler. “Because I cannot in good conscience guarantee that everything will go great. But I can in good conscience know that we’re going to try everything to redefine this experience in Schenectady.”

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

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