Newest police officers start job

Sean Donovan is finally back in Schenectady. The 31-year-old Rotterdam native wanted a police job he
Sean Donovan, left, of Rotterdam, was with the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx for three years. On Tuesday, he was getting field training with Patrolman Kevin Maloney in downtown Schenectady.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Sean Donovan, left, of Rotterdam, was with the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx for three years. On Tuesday, he was getting field training with Patrolman Kevin Maloney in downtown Schenectady.

Sean Donovan is finally back in Schenectady.

The 31-year-old Rotterdam native wanted a police job here, but when he took the civil service test three years ago, it was New York City that called him first.

Now, with Schenectady widening its net in search of recruits to fill a 21-member vacancy, Donovan has been called home.

“This is my hometown,” he said as he was sworn in on Tuesday. “I felt it was time to come back.”

He returns, with nine other recruits, at a difficult time. As Mayor Brian U. Stratton told the recruits Tuesday, five police officers are being investigated by the state for alleged misconduct. A recent grand jury report castigated the department for poor supervision and myriad other problems. And, Stratton said, every officer is under increased scrutiny from city officials and the public after Detective Jeffrey Curtis admitted last year to smoking crack cocaine that he stole from his own vice squad’s evidence locker.

Stratton warned that any new officers who make similar mistakes will have a short career in Schenectady.

“We are committed to nothing short of excellence from this department,” he said. “Anything short of excellence and professionalism simply will not be tolerated.”

He urged the new recruits, and the nine officers who joined the department after their academy graduation two weeks ago, to help change the department’s reputation.

“Rise above the tide and help us put a new face on Schenectady,” he said.

Donovan said the mayor was right to bring up the issue even on a day of celebration.

“Police officers should be held to a very high standard,” he said.

Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said Stratton would be remiss if he didn’t make his expectations clear on the recruits’ first day.

“If you’re going to draw reference to it, now’s the time,” he said. “It’s too late, later.”

He added that every police officer should heed the mayor’s warning.

“I think he’s taking note of this to remind these people, if not all employees, that we can’t have that happen again,” Bennett said.

Recruits interviewed Tuesday said they got the message.

Stratton said he couldn’t welcome them without also discussing the department’s recent history.

“I make these remarks because they are words that must be said. We cannot hide from our past,” Stratton said.

But police union President Robert Hamilton said Stratton picked the wrong time to give a lecture.

“The guys are there with their families. It’s a ceremony. It would be like a best man standing up at a wedding and talking about how high the divorce rate is,” Hamilton said.

Eight of the 10 recruits will start at the police academy today. Donovan and fellow New York City officer Samuel Gonzalez, 25, are already in field training, learning Schenectady’s policies. They will be patrolling on their own in two months.

BEEFING UP

In three months, the nine recruits who just graduated from the academy will be patrolling independently as well. Then in October, the last eight will hit the streets on their own. At that time, if there are no retirements or other losses, the city will have 164 working officers.

The department is authorized to hire 166 officers, so Bennett plans to hire another officer as well as replacing the chief of police to get up to full strength. Since retirements are common, he will likely have to hire several other officers as well for the summer police academy to keep the department fully staffed.

The department will then have enough officers to make significant improvements, Bennett said.

A nearly full muster will improve response times and allow officers to get back to proactive policing, rather than racing from call to call, he said, adding, “They will help restore that public confidence.”

Two of the recruits were already doing that Tuesday. An hour after the ceremony, Donovan and Gonzalez were walking the downtown beat with their training officers. Although downtown is a low-crime area, business owners are excruciatingly aware of the public perception of danger there, and they welcomed the walking officers heartily. It’s the only part of the city where officers regularly walk the beat.

Donovan and Gonzalez said that even with their experience policing New York City, they don’t expect Schenectady to be easy.

“You’re going to have to deal with the same kinds of people. It’s still going to be the same job,” Gonzalez said.

“It’s surprisingly similar,” Donovan said, citing the issues faced in any urban setting.

If anything, Gonzalez added, it might be harder — he worked in midtown in New York City, an area where crime is going down.

“The city’s getting better,” he said.

But he wanted to come back to upstate New York. He grew up in Fonda.

“My family, friends are up here,” he said.

The ceremony also welcomed Christopher Haigh, 23, and his brother Jonathan Haigh, 21, who are the first set of brothers to go to the academy together in Schenectady’s history. The Rotterdam natives will attend classes with Gordon Iwan, 30, of Scotia; Jeffery McCutcheon, 29, of Schenectady; Jonathan Moore, 26, of Saratoga; Adam Nowicki, 24, of Cohoes; Michael Pommer, 23, of Schenectady; and Jennifer Shewczyk, 22, of Watervliet.

Pommer will join the department’s many military veterans — he saw active-duty combat in Iraq with the Marines.

With Shewczyk, the department will have eight female officers. The department’s first female officer was hired in 1948 to run the newly created Youth Aid Bureau.

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