Well, it’s a start. Let’s hope it’s not the end.
The Schenectady City Council on Monday finally addressed, in small measure, the report on Mayor Gary McCarthy’s infamous May 2016 car chase and the report issued on the incident last month by special investigator Karen Heggen.
Despite allegations by the women he was following that the mayor appeared intoxicated, no breath test was administered to him by city police officers at the scene, no written statements were taken, and no arrests were made.
Heggen’s seven-month investigation concluded that no charges were warranted against any of the parties. But she recommended that “another police agency should have been called in to take over the investigation because Mr. McCarthy is the Mayor of Schenectady and the person who makes determinations regarding the police department, including promotions.”
This recommendation didn’t come from a ramped-up media out to get the mayor, or from any of the mayor’s political rivals. It came from a member of the district attorney’s office in a neighboring county, an independent legal authority appointed by a judge. It’s legitimate.
Yet given the fact that the City Council has had over three weeks to fully digest Heggen’s report, there appears to have been no progress in following through, either through a change in internal police procedures or through a policy change imposed by the council.
Can it really be that difficult to enact a policy that says something like, “If a law enforcement matter arises involving the mayor or other elected city official, police officers are instructed to detain all parties and to call an outside police agency to take over the investigation?”
We’re not trying to beat a dead horse here.
The situation raised a serious trust issue for police and public officials that a specific policy would clear up.
It’s not an insult to anyone’s integrity to bring in an independent agency to investigate cases in which a conflict might be present. Such a policy would actually protect all parties from having their integrity called into question.
In other situations in which police actions are called into question, such as police-involved shootings of civilians, it’s becoming more common for officials to call for an impartial outside agency to remove any scent of favoritism. How is that any different than calling in an outside agency when the investigation involves a public official with direct authority over the agency that’s investigating him?
City officials say they’re still unclear as to how to proceed. That seems like a convenient excuse for doing nothing. They need to determine exactly what legal authority they have to make a policy and then come up with a draft. And police need to stop dragging their heels and seek out other departments that have similar policies which might serve as a model.
What the public can’t do is allow city officials to let this incident fade away without doing anything to clarify the situation.
Maintaining the public’s trust should be of paramount importance to public officials and police. This is no place for ambiguity.