Mark R. Chaires’ first moments as Schenectady’s new police chief were spent Thursday thanking those who got him there: God, family and those with whom he’s worked.
Then he turned to the work at hand — leading a department that has gone through years of strife and setting it right.
“We have the makings of an outstanding police department,” Chaires, 52, told a City Hall Rotunda filled with family, officials and media. “Trust me, I’ll never lie to you. However, that’s not where we’re at right now, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Trust,” “honor” and “integrity” were words woven throughout Thursday’s announcement of the appointment of Chaires as the city’s 18th police chief.
Dorothy Chaires, his mother, pinned his badge on him. She now has the distinction of having been married to the city’s first black police officer and being the mother of its first black chief. Chaires’ father, Arthur Chaires, broke the color barrier in the department in 1952. He died in 2003.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton, who made the appointment, called Chaires a man of “considerable character and integrity.” Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, to whom Chaires will report, called the new chief an honest individual with military discipline.
Speakers on Thursday said he will put those traits to good use righting a department that just two weeks ago saw three officers indicted on misdemeanor misconduct charges regarding policies that allegedly weren’t followed.
“Make no mistake about it,” Stratton said, “he assumes the rank, responsibility and heavy burden of the chief of police at a very challenging time for this department and Schenectady.
“For Mark, the honeymoon will be short-lived,” Stratton continued. “I am confident Chief Chaires will rise to the task.”
Chaires will be paid $115,000 per year.
Among Chaires’ many goals is improving customer service, he said, including improving response times and officer communication skills.
Response time, the time it takes for officers to get to a scene, has been among several sticking points in recent years.
Excellence is the goal, Chaires said.
“That means everything from the time you pick up the phone until the case is resolved or the issue is handled,” he said.
Chaires also cited a multipronged effort to reduce crime that includes prevention and proactive policing.
Prevention, he said, includes education and mobilizing the community through information and Neighborhood Watch programs. Surveillance cameras, which have come online in problem areas in recent years, also play a role.
Proactive policing means looking at repeat offenders and hot spots that significantly impact crime.
Chaires brings to the chief’s post his experience as assistant chief in the administrative services bureau, which oversees officer discipline.
Problems with officers, Chaires said, have had more to do with safeguards and risk management policies not being in place. Those who got in trouble were a small minority compared with the officers who did nothing wrong.
“There were some subcultures in the building that were allowed to flourish because we didn’t have safeguards in place,” Chaires said, “things like effective internal affairs and auditing. We’ve been fixing those to some degree, but I think we need to do a lot better.”
At the police union, Lt. Robert Hamilton called the choice of Chaires an obvious one.
Relations between the chief’s office and the union have been scrutinized, with some saying that Chaires’ predecessor, Michael N. Geraci Sr., was too close to the union.
Hamilton said it’s always better to promote from within.
“His résumé speaks for itself,” Hamilton said. “He’s somebody who grew up in the city, understands the city and personnel and understands the department.”
Chaires’ tenure as head of the administrative services bureau saw two major incidents — former detective Jeffrey Curtis admitting to stealing drug evidence and allegations against five officers of excessive force in a December 2007 traffic stop.
Internal affairs had little to do with the Curtis case, which was investigated by the state police, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney recalled.
But in the December 2007 case, Chaires had a larger role.
Police investigated allegations by Donald Randolph that excessive force was used against him.
A police internal affairs investigation concluded that Randolph’s complaint had merit, referring it to Carney’s office for possible criminal prosecution. Carney soon turned the case over to the state attorney general’s office because of a conflict of interest.
Three of the five officers were indicted earlier this month on misdemeanor charges related to allegedly failing to follow procedures. The grand jury chose not to indict on the more serious allegations.
“From an internal affairs perspective,” Carney said, “I think he handled it appropriately and thought about it in a way that I think was right, and he acted accordingly.”
Chaires beat four other candidates for the chief’s job, including three outsiders.
Some community members, including Fred Clark of the local NAACP, have argued that an outsider was needed, someone who could look at the issues objectively.
Stratton and Bennett, however, turned inward to the 20-year-veteran, Chaires.
Bennett said he found Chaires’ long tenure in the department a valuable asset. Chaires knows the department, knows the issues and knows the public.
“No on-the-job training is required,” Bennett said.
He added later, “You have an honest individual and a person who brings military discipline to the job, critically important to police departments.”
Chaires served eight years in the Air Force before joining the department in 1988.
Carney said Chaires has always been a straight shooter with him. His military background is of significance.
“He takes those responsibilities seriously and believes in principles of accountability internally, and I think that that also enhances his respect in the department,” he said.
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