Schenectady County

Police consolidation in Schenectady focus of $45K state grant

A state grant will allow Columbia University to study how much it would cost to consolidate polic

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A state grant will allow Columbia University to study how much it would cost to consolidate policing in Schenectady County — and whether there is any cost-effective way to change the policing in the city.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton applied for a $45,000 grant last year in hopes of gathering proof that consolidation will save money. He has been advocating for a reorganization of the Schenectady Police Department for nearly a year, following a flurry of arrests of police officers on allegations of misconduct. Stratton is also trying to fire those officers, but he said he wants to take larger steps.

“I’m talking about major consolidations,” he said. “A county police department is not beyond the realm of possibility. If that provides better services, lower taxes, I think everyone would welcome it.”

So far few have spoken in favor of it. Only one politician from outside the city agreed to consider the idea, and he has now been voted out of office. The county Democrats are staunchly opposed, with Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage issuing a statement Tuesday that said the mayor’s plan might make policing worse throughout the county.

“The problems that are affecting the city of Schenectady Police Department are unique to the city, and the other communities in our county are not experiencing these problems. A shared services agreement isn’t going to fix the city’s problems but could move the problems to the towns,” she said. “The city of Schenectady needs to focus on identifying the problems within their police department, then taking the necessary steps to remedy them.”

County Attorney Chris Gardner also noted that Stratton has no public support.

“It’s a solo grant request because he couldn’t get anyone to sign on with him,” he said.

Stratton said such opposition is premature.

“No one individual or government agency has the right to dismiss this before we gather the facts,” he said. “Let the facts speak.”

He added that Republicans from the area have offered their support to him, a Democrat. He argued that all politicians have an obligation to consider proposals that could save money.

“Public safety is one of the uniformly most expensive services. This is where the greatest gains can be made,” Stratton said. “It’s not just a matter of the apparent dysfunction of our department. It’s really the overall responsibility we have to study ways to save money.”

He is confident that the study will show that some form of consolidation will save money. “The opportunity for significant savings and improved policing is significant,” he said.

The state grant requires a $5,000 match from the city, which was included in this year’s budget. The study results are expected within six months.

But the study may not come to the conclusion Stratton wants. A preliminary study — with no cost estimates — was performed last summer by Columbia professor Bill Eimicke and a group of his graduate students. They found that many of the proposed consolidation proposals were flawed.

A county wide police force would reduce costs, create greater efficiencies and eliminate duplication of services, they wrote, but policing Duanesburg and Princetown could become a serious problem.

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