SCHENECTADY — The city is scouting locations for Black Lives Matter street art comparable to the murals erected in Albany, Washington, DC and increasingly, cities nationwide.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield proposed the strip of State Street in front of Proctors, but Mayor Gary McCarthy said he’s unsure if the stencil used in Albany could accommodate the slight bend in the road.
“There’s a couple areas being reviewed,” said city Mayor McCarthy, citing Jay Street and Broadway as possible locations. “Hopefully we’re going to have that in the next couple of days and actually implement it.”
Sustained protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes last month, have prompted swift action in New York state, which banned chokeholds last week.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed into law last week a bill repealing a law that allowed localities to shield police discipline records from disclosure and authorized the state Attorney General’s Office to establish a special unit to investigate police-involved deaths.
Cuomo also signed three new bills on Monday.
Under what’s known as the Police Statistics and Transparency Act, or STAT Act, courts will be required to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low-level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations.
Officers must tighten up the timeline for reporting when they have discharged their weapons to their superiors, and officers are now required to provide medical and mental health attention to anyone in custody.
Police can be liable for damages for any suspect who does not receive medical attention for a serious physical injury.
In addition to street art, Porterfield wants the city to fly a Black Lives Matter flag from City Hall, citing the need to convey the city’s commitment to those principles.
“It’s something that needs to be said based on what has happened, and what continues to happen in this country,” Porterfield said.
Lawmakers expressed broad support on Monday, and will unveil a public commitment following approval of a resolution next week.
Chief Eric Clifford also briefed lawmakers on the department’s community engagement efforts since demonstrations reached the city on May 31, prompting a tense exchange that ultimately led to the chief and his officers taking a knee with protesters.
Smaller demonstrations have since occurred in the city, including a rally last Thursday in which Schenectady-based activist group All of Us presented the department with 13 demands for reform.
Those include automatic firing of police or corrections officers who make racist comments on social media and disabling body cameras, ending all ticket writing incentive programs and requiring officers to seek medical attention immediately for any suspect who is injured as a result of being taken into custody or suffering a pre-existing injury made worse by lack of treatment.
The group also wants some Police Department funds shifted to community programs to reduce violence.
Activists in Troy have also issued demands tailored to their Police Department.
Clifford didn’t directly address those demands on Monday, but outlined steps the department is taking to bolster outreach to the community and briefed lawmakers on past neighborhood engagement efforts, including programming at city schools, meals programming and a basketball league.
Still in the planning stages are meetings with protest leaders, the Schenectady NAACP and neighborhood associations.
The department is also engaged in conversations with the Anti-Defamation League about training for officers, and will meet with community members at the Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday.
Clifford acknowledged feedback that over-policing remains a concern.
“We know in our community many communities feel like they’re over-policed,” he said.
Overall use of force incidents by the department have declined from roughly 500 cases annually to 300, including “resisting handcuffing” or when officers pull a suspect’s arms behind their backs while taking them into custody.
Analysts will break those incidents out from the broader data in order to get a clearer overall picture of how force is applied by the department, Clifford said, most of which occur during domestic violence arrests or when responding to calls of emotionally-distressed persons.
The chief also outlined “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” techniques, or efforts to prevent crime by working with local businesses to improve lighting, remove window advertisements that obscure internal activity and develop measures to prevent loitering.
Porterfield urged police to cut back on cursing when interacting with the public.
“Sometimes the language is extremely aggressive,” Porterfield said.
All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles said while she “appreciate[s] the gesture that the chief is making, it seems that he is missing a few very loud points that have been made on multiple occasions by hundreds of residents.”
“Our community is hurting because of police brutality that has occurred by Schenectady police, not just because of the recent images of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and others,” Miles said. “Additionally, we residents of Schenectady were very clear with where the Police Department needs to improve. Start with our 13 demands and then ask us what we need next.”
Cuomo also signed an executive order requiring all police departments statewide to “reinvent and modernize police strategies” with input from the community.
Clifford said on Monday reviewing the department’s use of force policy will be a key element of that endeavor, which must be approved by the City Council by April 1, 2021 at the risk of losing state funding.