New panel to vet Schenectady police recruits

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford.

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford.

SCHENECTADY — City police recruits will soon have to face an additional layer of scrutiny before they can join the force.

Chief Eric Clifford will assemble a panel of five community stakeholders to meet with recruits as part of the hiring process.

Clifford made the announcement during a meeting Wednesday between the steering committee members guiding the state-mandated police reform process.

“I plan to speak to the panel immediately after they speak to the candidate to get their feedback,” Clifford said after the meeting. “That feedback will be a part of our decision making process when we decide if we will make an offer of employment.”

Panelists have not been named.

An erosion of trust and the desire for deeper ties between police and the community were key themes that emerged during the recently-wrapped series of police reform panel discussions, which collected input and testimony from nearly 200 individuals representing 88 organizations over three weeks.

Community activist William Rivas initially floated the concept, which he believes will allow residents to vet recruits’ dedication and commitment to the community they’ll be tasked with policing, and possibly weed out “bad apples” before they join the force.

The Save Our Streets co-founder said he was “excited and shocked” after Clifford’s announcement.

“If you take away the badges and titles, you just have people,” Rivas said. “On both sides, if you don’t have an understanding of the situation the person has grown up in, you come away with implicit bias.”

Rivas said the city is already proving to be a model statewide because it’s quickly rolling out reforms.

“Now we’re creating tangible items to really create change,” Rivas said. “We can definitely count this as a victory.”

Other policy proposals will be forthcoming as analysts crunch the data and testimonies generated during the series of six panel discussions will be presented to the city police for consideration.

A package will ultimately be presented to the City Council for approval.

Yet Clifford said city police can also move unilaterally to implement other reforms outside of the formal process.

The city will accept public comment until Dec. 1.

While any reforms will require a degree of buy-in from the Schenectady PBA, the newly announced panel will not require their approval because the process will involve recruits — not officers, Clifford said.

Potential changes to the Civilian Police Review Board, the citizen panel which probes allegations of police misconduct, may also be independent of the process.

City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield has pointed at several operational gaps, including the lack of the mandated advisory committee outlined in City Code, and reiterated City Council has ultimate oversight.

Porterfield on Monday urged her colleagues to continue to examine the code and be prepared to discuss possible reforms.

“In December, we should be revisiting this and having some discussion around it,” Porterfield said.

The board’s chairman, Richard Shave, said on Wednesday members were also internally discussing potential reforms, and will meet with Clifford on Thursday.

Activists and community members have knocked the nine-member panel, which doesn’t have subpoena powers, for a lack of independence.

Shave pushed back against those criticisms, saying he doesn’t believe the body is a “rubber stamp.”

“But I think we could be doing a lot more good.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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