Schenectady Police preparing use of force reports, presentation for reform process

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

City police are working on a lengthy presentation to the public outlining the department’s work and what they do.

Chief Eric Clifford envisions the presentation may be several hours in length, and department brass are currently deciding how to best structure the effort.

That could involve chopping a video up into several shorter clips, or producing a condensed version to be accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.

“To talk about the Police Department and everything we do is not going to be easy as a half-hour PowerPoint presentation,” Clifford said.

Clifford provided an update on Wednesday at a steering committee of the city’s effort to achieve state-mandated police reforms.

The chief hopes to give members reports on use of force data and arrest demographics by their next meeting on Sept. 23.

“Our analysts are working around the clock to work on these,” Clifford said.

At present, roughly three-dozen people, a cross-section of academics, community leaders, law enforcement, clergy, activists, civil rights groups and city officials constitute the committee.

Panelists also heard from Dr. Robert Worden, director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, which will assist in analyzing data and helping the panel shape the input into concrete policy changes.

Worden briefed the group on the concept of “procedural justice,” or how the public views their encounters with law enforcement and if they’ve been treated fairly.

Worden worked with the city Police Department a decade ago on measuring procedural justice in the city, analyzing 1,800 encounters over 18 months.

Findings, chronicled in the report “Mirage of Police Reform,” revealed 75 to 80 percent of respondents found the department’s procedural justice metrics to be “moderately to very high,” a number that dropped to 40 to 50 percent for those who were arrested.

“We intend to draw upon the body of research as input into the process,” Worden said.

George Floyd’s death while being taken into custody by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.

The panel, known as the Schenectady Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative, is a result of an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo requiring police departments statewide to implement community-driven reforms by April 1 or risk of losing state funding.

The city mailed out letters asking community organizations to nominate two representatives to participate in a series of community meetings this fall.

Letters are due Sept. 18. Forums moderated by Jason Benitez, vice president of talent and inclusion at the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, will begin this fall.

After the discussions, the city Police Department will work with the Finn Institute to shape feedback into policy that will “achieve parity between what the public wants and what the Police Department delivers,” Clifford said on Wednesday.

By November, the task force will be required to assemble a draft plan incorporating proposed reforms and policy changes, with a ratification period to follow.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the process will become clearer once the community members who will participate in discussions are cemented.

“With the next meeting, we have to formalize the process to be a little more focused on taking what I’m sure will be varied inputs and bring them into a review process to make them actionable,” McCarthy said.

Clifford acknowledged arriving at a consensus may be tough in some areas.

In cases that fail to reach “crystal-clear” agreement, city police may retain current policy.

The Rev. Lynn Gardner of Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady wondered about the ability to reach consensus amid such a diverse group with different viewpoints.

“We listen to our 400 people and even within those 400 people, we often have contradictory requests,” Gardner said of her congregation.

On picking representatives: Church time can be somewhat “glacial,” she said.

“I’m guessing we’re not the only organization that’s having a tough time doing that,” Gardner said.

The public comment period will begin in early March.

The City Council will tentatively vote on a package on March 29.

Lawmakers briefly discussed the panel on Tuesday, asking to be invited to participate.

Several of them listened in on Wednesday.

Clifford also wants all members to spend time riding with city police officers and shadowing the county’s Unified Communication Center, provided the proper social distancing protocols can be retained.

“I think it’s important we as a Police Department … recognize maybe one of the things we haven’t been best at is being transparent with the community on what we do on a daily basis,” Clifford said.

 

 

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