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Cohoes Police Department Swears In New Leadership

Cohoes, New York has a new police chief for the first time in 27 years. 

Chief Todd Waldin was sworn in alongside a host of new leaders at Cohoes Music Hall Wednesday. He replaces Acting Chief Tom Ross and Chief Bill Heslin, who retired earlier this year. Democratic Mayor Bill Keeler says the coronavirus pandemic prolonged the search for a new department head – but in the end, it was worth it.

“Todd Waldin finished number one on the police chief’s examination, and has served his department for 19 years – three as a sergeant, and nine as a lieutenant," Keeler explains. "Todd’s widely respected as a supervisor both within the department as well as in the larger law enforcement community. He will no doubt deliver the strong, independent, and professional leadership the department needs.”

Waldin will oversee a force of 34 people in the Albany County city, along with new Assistant Chief Timothy Keefe, new Lieutenant John Shanahan, and three freshly promoted sergeants. The department also swore in a new officer Wednesday, but Waldin says the group’s modest size – driven by a string of recent retirements – is currently one of its largest obstacles.

“The plan is to have a fully-staffed, well-trained department that can engage with the community. And if we meet those three goals, I think we can go a long way to solving a lot of the problems that exist," he notes.

Cohoes Police Department Swearing In Ceremony
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
A total of six officers were promoted Wednesday, with one new recruit.

Waldin cites community policing as a particular focus for the future. Police-community relations and police brutality have dominated conversation in cities across the country since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May – and Cohoes is no exception. In June, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered local police departments to come up with a plan for reform by April 2021, with their state funding in the balance.

Waldin says his force has already started reviewing its policies, while simultaneously working toward an official accreditation from the state. Again, given the department’s size, he notes it’s crucial for all officers to be trained in community policing.

“Newer recruits that we have in our police department have had that training through the police academy, but there are some officers here who haven’t, and the goal would be to have everyone go through that same training," says Waldin. "Because you really do start to see things, and the evidence of how you can do things differently, and the positive results that you can achieve by doing that.”

The department has received its share of bad press lately, after one of its officers fired his weapon in Essex County and allegedly lied about it to responding State Police. Officer Sean McKown, the nephew of former Chief Heslin, reportedly told state police that he exchanged gunfire with a group of Black youths after arguing with them at his camp in the Adirondacks. McKown later changed multiple aspects of his story, saying he fired into a tree stump.

Mayor Keeler, a retired State Police Troop Commander, says an investigation found that the group in question was far from the scene when McKown discharged his weapon. He faces no criminal charges, but Keeler says he was pushed to retire, calling his behavior unbecoming of a police officer.

“You know, it’s a different department now. There have been half a dozen retirements in the last eight months," he adds. "The chief will have the chance to diversify the department, in terms of personnel, engage with the community – this is a diverse community. And he will be very hands-on, as I have been, in engaging with the community. Every aspect of the community.”

McKown’s brother, Scott, was among the three officers promoted to sergeant Wednesday, alongside Kevin Reiter and Michael Kendrick. 

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."