SCHENECTADY — City Police Chief Eric Clifford acknowledged the death of George Floyd in May lit the fuse on a series of events both nationwide and in the city that questioned the department’s legitimacy.
“Since the death of George Floyd, we need to recognize more, understand and have dialogue with community stakeholders on where we need to improve,” Clifford said. “We realize actions speak louder than words and we’re committed to that.”
With large-scale demonstrations against racism and police brutality now largely subsided, the nitty-gritty of police reform has begun.
The city entered a new phase of the state-mandated reform process on Wednesday with the kickoff of the series of meetings designed to reshape the Schenectady Police Department with public feedback.
Officials outlined the process, which will ultimately result in a package of proposed policy changes to be presented to City Council, and pledged to engage in honest conversation when it comes to correcting past ills.
“I recognize the past harms that this agency has inflicted on this community,” Clifford said. “We have disproportionate policing in our communities of color. I recognize that, and no one should have to live like that.”
Much of the 50-minute virtual session consisted of an overview of the department by Clifford, who stressed the importance of establishing a concrete understanding of how the department operates ahead of the talks, which will begin in earnest on Thursday with a moderated panel discussion of community group representatives.
City police, Clifford said, have already identified a number of topics that will likely be lightning rods for discussion, including use-of-force policies and no-knock warrants, and are prepared to respond them accordingly.
Several protests unfolded in Schenectady this summer following the death of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police, demonstrations further accelerated locally by a confrontational encounter between a city policed officer and suspect in July.
Amid the demonstrations, activists All of Us released a list of 13 demands for police reform and have engaged in a sustained pressure campaign for an official response and immediate adoption, including an prolonged protest that shut down City Hall in July.
Clifford previously said he wouldn’t publicly comment until the broader community had a chance to weigh in.
Yet the department addressed the first three demands on Wednesday night via written responses that were briefly displayed during a PowerPoint presentation. The chief said the responses would be uploaded later to the city Police Department’s website.
All of Us has demanded prosecution of all law enforcement and corrections officers for “all violations of the civil rights of all people of color, marginalized individuals and all peoples for, but not limited to, killings, beatings, false arrests and harassment.”
City police responded by saying any allegation of civil rights violations are “thoroughly investigated” by the department’s Office of Professional Standards, county District Attorney’s Office, state Attorney General’s Office and federal Attorney General’s Office, if needed.
“The Police Department will continue to hold all officers accountable for all local, state and federal laws, which includes prosecution when justified,” read the response. “This includes all civil rights violations.”
All of Us, which has a representative on the Schenectady Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative, has called for seized drug profits to be diverted back into the community.
The Police Department responded by saying oversight of distributing forfeiture assets falls under federal jurisdiction, including the Department of Justice and Department of the Treasury.
Law enforcement agencies that participated in the seizure of assets can request an equitable share of net proceeds.
Yet funds can only be used in accordance with law enforcement purposes that “directly supplement the appropriated resources of the recipient law enforcement agency,” as per federal guidelines.
All of Us has called for the automatic firing for all “racist text, emails, letters, social media posts, phone calls and so-called private conversations” by any cop or corrections officer.
The department responded that it does not tolerate civil rights violations or racism, and pointed to internal standards of conduct addressing that behavior.
All disciplinary hearings are open to the public.
As of Wednesday evening, the responses had not yet been posted online.
Clifford said the department will discuss the demands throughout the series of meetings, which run through Nov. 12.
“Our hope is these conversations and work of the task force can be the beginning steps of repairing the trust between the police force and communities they serve,” said Jason Benitez, vice president of talent and inclusion at the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, who is moderating the panels.
Schenectady Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative meeting schedule
- Thursday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.: Community group meeting
- Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.: Finn Institute Presentation on procedural justice
- Thursday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.: Faith-based groups meeting
- Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.: Neighborhood groups meeting
- Thursday, Nov. 5: Public safety group meeting (noon) and business association meeting (6 p.m.)
- Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6 p.m.: Youth/education group meeting
- Thursday, Nov. 12 6 p.m.: Wrap-up meeting
All meetings will be livestreamed. Open Stage Media broadcasts are available on Spectrum channels 1301, 1302, 1303, Verizon Fios channels 36, 37, 38, and will also be posted on OSM’s YouTube page: www.youtube.com/openstagemedia.