Two decades after a stinging corruption scandal, the Schenectady Police Department has updated and implemented new policies and procedures. After a years-long effort, the department received statewide accreditation.
New York state’s Accreditation Program has been in operation since 1989. The program has four main goals:
1. To increase the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement agencies utilizing existing personnel, equipment and facilities to the extent possible;
2. To promote increased cooperation and coordination among law enforcement agencies and other agencies of the criminal justice services;
3. To ensure the appropriate training of law enforcement personnel; and
4. To promote public confidence in law enforcement agencies.
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy announced Thursday that the sometimes troubled Electric City police department has achieved its longtime goal.
“For the first time, we can officially say today that the Schenectady Police Department is accredited and it’s one of the few police departments across the state that hold that distinction,” said McCarthy.
The mayor made the announcement following a promotion ceremony for five city officers.
Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, a former county judge, underlined the significance of the distinction.
“It means that the department has been recognized statewide for the quality and excellence of our procedures. This has taken years to achieve,” said Eidens.
Eric Clifford took over as police chief in September 2016. With a goal of having the department achieve accreditation, Clifford said he began putting things in motion by dedicating staff to the effort.
“We had a position in the budget for a technology lieutenant and I prioritized the accreditation over the technology lieutenant, so I assigned that lieutenant to do accreditation. But we still had the need for the technology lieutenant, so that’s where I went back to the council and asked them to add an additional position so that we could maintain what we had already planned for the lieutenant,” said Clifford.
Clifford said when the city council included the funding to support a full-time accreditation manager in the 2018 budget, years of work started to come together.
There was physical work involved. For example, Assistant Chief Michael Seber, under the previous city Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennet, oversaw the installation of new evidence lockers and the cleaning out of 30 years of evidence – something that required coordination with the District Attorney’s Office.
Seber said through the accreditation process, the department’s policies have been digitized and are made readily accessible. He said the process also increased the numbers of policies and procedures on the books.
“We now have over 170 policies within the police department. Before, we kind of…when we started this process, we probably had about 115, 120 policies. We had to develop multiple policies in a way that has to be legally sound operationally sound, and the officers can function within them. So it’s an important factor,” said Seber.
Mayor McCarthy called the day’s announcement an exciting moment.
“It’s also a relief with it. We’ve finally been able to put everything together to meet those statewide standards and to be able to tell that to the public. And so again it hopefully continues the reputation of the department that itis progressive, that it is results-oriented, and now we have some independent standards to reinforce that,” said McCarthy.
It all comes at a time when the department is under public scrutiny. In July, a city officer was caught on video appearing to use his knee on a city man’s neck during an arrest.
The city announced a handful of reforms in the days following the incident, though activists have continued to demand further changes. The department has not yet issued a final report on the incident.
The union representing Schenectady police officers is suing to prevent the release of the involved officer’s disciplinary records, prompting protest outside the courthouse on Wednesday.