SCHENECTADY — People miss the cop on the beat.
Tropics co-owner Debbie Budhraj said she’d even pay extra to have an officer patrolling her South Brandywine Avenue neighborhood.
“We don’t see them as much as we’d like to see in our area because of where we’re located,” Budhraj said.
Again and again at community panel discussions, residents have called for a return to foot patrols.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen police officers on foot, at least not in my neck of the woods,” said David Bacheldor, a member of the Upper Union Street Neighborhood Association. “If you don’t have any visibility, I don’t know how you can call it community policing.”
Moderated panel discussions continued throughout the week as part of the state-mandated process to reform the city Police Department with community feedback.
Participants said foot patrols are more than just having a friendly face in the neighborhood, but an integral component to community policing and building inroads and a sense of mutual trust with residents.
Stockade resident Mabel Leon said conversations with two-dozen residents revealed their relationship with cops is often nothing more than a brief encounter with a patrol car with dark-tinted windows as it cruises by.
“There was really a consensus among neighbors that they wanted to stress community policing and all that that involves,” Leon said on Wednesday.
Donna Wojick said a quick survey of residents in the city’s East Front Street neighborhood revealed people didn’t see the police as part of the community.
“I just got quizzical looks,” Wojick said.
The detachment is problematic, she said, because when people’s only interactions with law enforcement are during crisis situations, it can be intimidating and exacerbate distress.
Neighborhood liaisons would also be helpful, she said.
Dawn Raysor, of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, said she wanted to see the same roster of cops patrolling the neighborhood to provide a sense of continuity.
Kenneth Brooks echoed those sentiments.
“We don’t know these police officers,” Brooks said,
That level of disconnect leads to a lack of accountability, he said.
“What I see is strangers, tyrants, green lights, guns and handcuffs, and they have the ability to do whatever they want to do, and they don’t even know us,” Brooks said.
The city is midway through its series of virtual meetings, which chunk together people representing different sectors, from neighborhood organizations to members of the business companies, to offer feedback to city police.
Recurring themes surfaced on Wednesday in a meeting of neighborhood groups, including the need to rethink mental health responses and general sense of distrust and fear from the Black community that they will be harmed during police encounters.
“When we call  as victims, we’re treated as assailants,” said Janice Rouse of the Schenectady United Neighborhood Association.
Rouse, who is Black, stressed that not all cops are bad, but trust has eroded, particularly among people of color.
“There are some with issues, and we need transparency,” Rouse said. “We need to know what the issues are and we need to weed out the bad apples in our police force.”
Downtown has a beat cop who patrols between 8 a.m. and midnight, while patrols are seasonal in other neighborhoods.
Business owners said the officer makes a real difference, helping to clear out panhandlers, for instance.
“We can definitely notice when his presence is there,” said Abigail Rockmacher, owner of the Dilly Bean and president of the Jay Street Business Association.
Kirk Lewis, executive director of Schenectady ARC, said employees are comforted, particularly at night when walking to their cars.
“It makes our employees feel safer going into the lot at night,” Lewis said on Thursday.
Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation called their presence a “sea change” for merchants.
“The business owners feel like they have a resource,” Salengo said.
Police acknowledged the emerging consensus on foot patrols, but said both financial and human resources are always stretched in a city where calls come in at a constant clip.
Short answer: Not enough cops.
“Our department is very reactive in how we police this city,” said Sgt. Bill Gannon. “At a patrol level, we just triage calls on a daily basis.”
More officers would allow the department to expand their community policing unit, a measure Gannon acknowledged would likely result in more success in building positive interactions.
Cops often pack bikes in their patrol cruisers, but the sheer volume of priority calls often makes it difficult for officers to take them for a spin.
“They’re not able to ride or bike as much as they want to because they’re still responsible for answering those calls,” said Assistant Chief Daryl Mallard in a discussion between law enforcement officials on Thursday morning.
Sgt. Nick Mannix indicated cops would be receptive to the idea, and the discussion to expand foot patrols to other neighborhoods — whether Mont Pleasant, Hamilton Hill or the Northside — is one worth having.
“I think everyone would agree that it would be something the entire department would jump on,” Mannix said. “We keep hearing that recurring theme… it’s just trying to find a way to incorporate it into the budget and trying to make it happen.”