SCHENECTADY – State Appellate Division Justice Eugene P. Devine is set to be the city’s new public safety commissioner, Mayor Gary McCarthy announced Tuesday.
Devine is to take over for retiring Public Safety Commissioner Michael C. Eidens, who announced his retirement Monday.
The jurist will take the job that oversees Schenectady’s Police, Fire and Building departments after having served as the Appellate Division, Third Department justice since 2014, according to his bio on the state courts website.
Devine will serve in his current capacity as state Appellate Court justice until Nov. 30, and will start his new position the following day.
“I had a little panic attack as I was sitting there listening to the mayor,” Devine quipped after his ceremonial swearing in outside of City Hall on Tuesday. “I’m used to being a sitting judge and having the last word, and I only have about three weeks left wherein I will have the last word. And all of a sudden, I’m going to have judges looking at things that we may do.”
Devine is a graduate of Villanova University and Albany Law School and had been a private attorney for more than 30 years, his bio reads.
He was previously an assistant public defender in Albany County and, from 1996 to 2006, the top public defender in that county.
He was elected to the state Supreme Court for the Third Judicial District in 2006.
Eidens was appointed to the job by McCarthy in Oct. 2017 shortly after the decision by the state’s highest court strengthened the post, ruling the commissioner had final approval of the police discipline process, overturning a decision by a lower court that sided with the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association and state Public Employment Relations Board.
The post also gained Building Department oversight as part of internal reform efforts following the fatal 2015 Jay Street fire. Subsequent investigations found a lack of communication between departments, which in part led to the four deaths in the blaze.
Eidens retired briefly in March 2019 before returning two months later to focus exclusively on police discipline in a part-time capacity.
Devine, too, will serve part-time, and said he agrees with the city’s Police Department’s commissioner form of police discipline.
Devine steps into the role at a time of intense scrutiny on the department as a result of a summer of protests over claims of racism on the police force and a controversial arrest of a suspect in July during which a struggle took place. The officer’s action ultimately resulted in his being suspended for six days after an internal review determined he committed two inter-departmental violations.
At present, the Schenectady PBA is suing the city in an attempt to block the release of unsubstantiated claims in his disciplinary file, litigation that the New York Civil Liberties Union has since joined.
Briefs were due for submission to state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The city is also nearing the end of the public stage of the police reform process, which requires the department to reshape operations with community feedback by April 1 at the risk of losing state funding.
“I very simply believe that in our current environment, we have provided for us the impetus for change,” said Devine, who declined to outline a broad vision on Tuesday, but rather opted for a wait-and-see approach.
Devine said he aims to brush up on the series of police reform meetings and meet members of the steering committee guiding the process.
“I’m going to try to get familiar with all of the stakeholders over the next couple of weeks and try and find out what needs change,” Devine said. “I do think we’re in a whole new environment and this department has done an incredible job. I don’t know what or if changes need to be made, and you’ll have to give me time to get into the job to answer that question.”
But he said he hoped to draw on his experience not only as a jurist, but also as a private attorney, public defender and chief counsel for the Albany County Department of Social Services to the position.
District Attorney Robert Carney praised the pick.
“He was always fair to us,” Carney said. “He was a really good judge, and we’re just really lucky to have him here in the city of Schenectady.”
The city Police Department is undergoing a generational shift, Carney said, and Devine is climbing onboard as younger leaders are stepping into their own.
“The department is ripe for some transformation and I think this process has been healthy,” Carney said. “We’ll see where it plays out.”
More from NYCourts.gov: Justice Eugene P. Devine