Community members at a Wednesday night forum on police and race relations called for strengthening Schenectady’s police review board, which looks into complaints about officer behavior.
They said the board lacked the resources and authority to implement serious change and lacked the standing or perceived independence to draw out serious complaints from the parts of the city most affected by daily police interactions.’
Some suggested establishing a way for people to take complaints directly to City Hall. Others suggested empowering community activists to serve as liaisons that could help surface serious complaints that might not otherwise see the light of day.
“It’s important to have a review board, but it’s not important to have a review board that doesn’t have the resources to implement any of the recommendations they have,” said the Rev. Horace Sanders, who hosted the forum at Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. “It doesn’t help to have a review board in name only.”
The discussion of the review was part of a broader conversation around police and race relations. Around 100 people turned out for the event and broke into small groups before coming back together and engaging with a panel of law enforcement officials, clergy leaders and academics.
Eric Clifford, who was named police chief on Tuesday morning, was on hand for the nearly two-hour discussion. He committed to participating in more dialogue with the community and suggested more officers should do so as well. He said it would be possible to host community discussions at the police station in the future.
He also said the Police Department would look into putting its officers through implicit bias training in January as part of its annual in-service training. Implicit bias training teaches officers about the ways that they subconsciously make conclusions about people based on their appearance or other characteristics.
“We have to be out in the community more often, [and be] more engaging,” Clifford said. “I’m trying to pass the message on to all of the officers to come out to these conversations, to have more of these conversations.”
Some of the attendees pointed out that everyone had biases they needed to check, including biases about the police. Many of the speakers agreed that it’s important to have more members of the Schenectady community become Schenectady police officers, raising ideas to get police into the schools more or to have fun ways of engaging kids like giving out tickets for ice cream. The suggestions often boiled down to finding ways to increase interactions between police and residents — something Clifford has highlighted as a priority.
“When I grew up in the 1970s, when the police officers came down the street, everybody knew their name,” Larry Boatright said.
But current efforts underway to diversify the police force and hire more Schenectady residents have proven challenging, city officials at the event pointed out. The city has more than a half-dozen positions it’s currently seeking to fill.
“We need to prioritize hiring from the community,” said City Council member Ed Kosiur, adding that it was hard to find city residents for the open positions. “Where are my Schenectady kids? I need my Schenectady kids.”
The Rev. Stacey Midge of the First Reformed Church in the Stockade pointed out that the people at the forum are not the people most likely to face problems with the police. She suggested enlisting trusted community advocates to help filter police complaints and raise them with authorities. She also said future events needed to better engage the members of the community that have had or are more likely to have issues with police.
“This is a room full of people who are highly unlikely to have a negative incident with police and have access to channels of powers,” Midge said. “We need to move some of these conversations into the communities where people have negative experiences with police.”
Sanders promised to host more discussions in the future — Wednesday’s event was the second such forum on race relations since July — and said he wanted to bring policymakers to the table and begin to hone in on specific solutions.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.