Schenectady County

Schenectady to fight for right to punish police

Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy has decided to fight on for control of police discipline.

Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy has decided to fight on for control of police discipline.

The city lost its case at the Public Employment Relations Board last month, and McCarthy said then that he might give up the battle.

If he had given up, the city would have to keep paying outsiders to handle each police misconduct case — and rely on their judgment as to what the officer’s punishment should be.

While the city has succeeded in firing all but one officer it sought to dismiss through that method in the past year, it cost $1.23 million to terminate eight officers and left those officers waiting more than a year before their cases were decided.

The process was so slow that it made discipline almost meaningless to those who had not been charged with misconduct, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.

“It was simply taking far too long. It lost its meaning,” he said. “Part of discipline is to set examples for other people and to renew the position that misconduct is going to have consequences.”

He wants to simply hear the officer’s case and make a decision. He would mete out discipline within 60 days of the officer being formally charged with misconduct, he said.

PERB ruled against the city, forcing Schenectady to continue the slower, more expensive process.

At first, McCarthy said there was no point in spending more money to appeal the decision.

But the city’s attorney and Bennett argued that they had known they would likely lose at PERB. The city can now force the case into the court system by appealing PERB’s ruling. And there, officials believe, they have a much better chance of winning.

McCarthy has now asked the private law firm of Girvin & Ferlazzo to file an appeal. That’s because Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden, who has announced that he will leave by the end of the year, will likely leave his position before the appeal is heard.

“I’d do part of it and then I’d be gone,” Van Norden said. “I’m looking for a position in Boston — I’m aggressively looking. We made the decision to move to Boston.”

But he doesn’t want the city to give up the fight.

“The other system is expensive and it’s a question of local control of police discipline,” he said. “To the extent the local government should be in control of that, it’s worth being argued.”

Police Benevolent Association attorney Michael Ravalli could not be reached for comment.

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