Schenectady Police review panel working to streamline complaint process

Photo by Peter Barber/Gazette
Photo by Peter Barber/Gazette

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The civilian panel responsible for city police accountability wants to simplify the process of filing complaints on police misconduct.

Richard Shave, chairman of the Civilian Police Review Board, told the City Council the board is currently redesigning the form to be more user-friendly, including making the document easier to read and anchoring it in a more prominent place on the city’s website.

“We’re a month away from that,” Shave said. “It should be up and running in the fall.”

The panel is also considering shrinking the city Police Department’s logo, which can be intimidating for those seeking redress, Shave said, and making the document easier to fill out for those who speak English as a second language.

The Civilian Police Review Board is also exploring how to more widely disseminate the forms in the community, including an online submission form.

The five-page complaint packet is currently available on the city’s website, and Shave said county library branch locations have been popular pick-up points for physical copies.

City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick suggested promoting the document on Nextdoor, a popular neighborhood social networking smartphone app.

“That would be a good place to advertise where the form exists and where it can be found,” Patrick said.

City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said more should be done to promote awareness of the panel itself.

“Quite frankly, there’s a lot of people who don’t know the board exists,” Porterfield said.

The review board, which meets on the second Wednesday of each month, is the civilian arm of the police accountability process.

Amid a nationwide reckoning on racism and police brutality, civil rights groups and activists are calling for widespread policing reforms, including those applying to the low-profile panel.

Schenectady NAACP is calling for independent investigative and subpoena powers, while activists All of Us want the panel to be granted full access to unredacted files and evidence and the “power to submit to the attorney general for further review, investigation and potential charges.”

And while a state statute shielding police disciplinary records was repealed in June, Shave personally doesn’t want to have to file Freedom of Information Law records with the city for personnel records.

“If I want to see a personnel record, I want to see what’s going on without that trouble,” Shave told lawmakers on Monday.

At present, the board is barred from participating in investigations and it cannot issue subpoenas, instead relying on documents provided by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division.

Without investigatory powers, the board relies on the City Council to subpoena additional materials if necessary.

Complaints can be submitted to City Hall or city Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards before being passed onto the panel.

All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles, who served briefly on the panel after being approved in August 2018, said the current setup creates a level of skepticism in the community.

“To write a report about police that goes to the police is not comforting to the community,” said Miles, who also wants full disciplinary records of each officer named in a complaint to be automatically included in materials reviewed by members.

Panelists are nominated by groups and community organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Schenectady NAACP, Schenectady United Neighborhoods and Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, among others, and require City Council approval.

While the board has struggled with membership in the past, all nine spots are now filled, Shave said.

The panel reviewed 14 complaints in the first two quarters of 2020, Shave said, which is about normal.

Complaints can range from discourtesy to use of force.

“There is nothing much to say about the previous cases,” Shave said. “There were a couple issues of use of force in which the police were exonerated.”

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