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Schenectady City Council advances plan to put police in schools

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall

Capping weeks of community discussion, the Schenectady City Council has advanced a proposal to provide six full-time city police officers to serve as community engagement officers in the city school district.

The Schenectady City Council’s Public Safety Committee has signed off on the plan to site the officers in the Schenectady City School District.

The move follows a split 4-3 vote by the Schenectady City Schools Board of Education to approve a $300,000 contract for the officers that runs through 2025.

Schenectady schools superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. appeared before the Public Safety Committee Monday, where he stumped for the program that has been ongoing in a pilot phase since November.

Soler said the program was not a “traditional school resource officer program.”

“We’re trying to change the narrative of what schools, officers can be like in schools,” he said.

But the presence of the officers has not been wholly welcomed by the student body. During a March Board of Education meeting, Schenectady High School Senior Trey Tillman said now is not the time to put more police in schools, suggesting there are other ways to build relationships between students and police.

“There’s just too much trauma. There’s no relationship building. It’s just too much.”

The school board’s decision pushed some students to walk out in protest.

But leaders, including Police Chief Eric Clifford, see the program as a way to address increased safety issues. Schools statewide have experienced a rise in student altercations during the pandemic.

Monday night’s discussion and vote came two weeks after a decision was delayed for further discussion.

Public Safety Committee Chair Carl Williams said he used the time to learn more about the program.

“I know other members reached out to Superintendent Soler to get some more justification and use that additional two weeks to just provide more clarity to this program, I think, was very intentional and also deservant just based on the magnitude of time that was allowed on the school board to have these discussions,” said Williams.

The contract approved by the school district is described as "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.

Democratic City Council President Marion Porterfield said she understands the superintendent’s desire to have cops in the schools.

“However, we still need to stick to what we said in to our Reform and Reinvention and make sure that we have community engagement officers in the community as well,” said Porterfield.

That sentiment drew some pushback from Councilor John Polimeni.

“The school district is part of the community. The kids in the school district are part of the community. They’re not two separate entities,” said Polimeni.

An amendment to the proposal approved Monday night by Councilor John Mootooveren will require reimbursements acquired by the city from the school district be directed to support future mental health and community engagement efforts.

The plan must be given final approval by the full city council.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.