Schenectady County

Survey aiming to gauge Schenectady police treatment of public

The Schenectady Police Department is now doing something many corporations and businesses do — surve

The Schenectady Police Department is now doing something many corporations and businesses do — surveying its customers.

The department wants to know how its services are being delivered, from the resident calling for assistance through the person being arrested.

They’re doing it through an Albany institute and federal funding.

“This is your way of speaking directly to us through our researchers,” Schenectady Police Chief Mark Chaires said Wednesday, “and give us a report card on how we’re doing so we can in turn improve our services.”

The John F. Finn Institute in Albany began the surveys in August and expects to run them through January 2013. The institute is named for the Albany police lieutenant who was shot in the line of duty in late 2003 and died in 2004.

The goal of the project is to survey 100 people each month, asking such questions as whether police clearly explained the reason for a stop, whether they paid careful attention to what the person had to say, and how satisfied the person was with how they were treated, institute director Robert E. Worden said. People answering the survey will remain anonymous. Their answers will be compiled and turned into a report to help the department keep or alter practices.

The study will examine the concept of procedural fairness, Worden said. That includes how authority is exercised and how people experience it. “The premise of this project is that when these facets of police performance are measured and information on performance is provided to the department, performance will improve over time,” Worden said.

The survey is being conducted through a $340,000 award from the National Institute of Justice. That award covers Schenectady’s survey and one in Syracuse.

Schenectady’s survey comes amid an effort by the department to improve its image with the public. The department has suffered a decade of scandal and has had several of its officers arrested. Chaires and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett have been working to improve the department by ridding it of bad officers.

Emy Murphy, chairwoman of the city Civilian Police Review Board, welcomed the program when told of it by a reporter Wednesday. Murphy said the information can be invaluable in improving the communication between the police and the public.

“It closes the gap between law enforcement and the community,” Murphy said.

The program also follows a smaller effort in 2008 that looked for similar information but was done in-house, officials said.

The department was initially going to conduct the surveys without calling attention to them publicly, Chaires said. But, after starting in August, the department received calls from some people wondering if the survey was legitimate.

Questioners also want to speak with people who have been arrested. The institute will have access to in-car video to help in their assessments. However, suspects interviewed will remain anonymous, Worden said.

Still, at least one defense attorney, when told of the survey, said he would advise his clients not to participate. Steve Kouray, the county’s conflict defender, said he wouldn’t want his clients to take any chance that their cases could be hurt.

Asked about that later, Worden said that, as a federally funded project, they can promise the respondents confidentiality. What they say to the questioners could not be used against them and would neither help, nor hurt their case.

The department is expected to get its first set of data by the end of the year.

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