Cuomo cites Schenectady police reform effort as good example of progress made

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford - File photo 

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford - File photo 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated Monday the need to reimagine law enforcement as part of his State of the State address.

Rather than imposing a one-size fits-all solution, though, he has required every entity that operates a police agency to come up with a plan to fit that community’s needs — subject to the approval of the Cuomo administration.

During his State of the State, he cited several municipalities as good examples of the progress being made, including the city of Schenectady — specifically, its plan to have a citizen advisory panel evaluate candidates before they are hired and appointed to the Police Department.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Police Chief Eric Clifford thanked the governor for the recognition.

The police-community dialogue began after the late-spring civil unrest sparked by the police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. Black Lives Matter protests in Schenectady were tense and angry but not destructive, as people on both sides worked to avoid the violence that erupted in cities around the nation, including Albany.

Afterward there was a lot of conversation, Clifford told The Daily Gazette on Monday, and the City of Schenectady’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative formed.

“This is an example of real, substantive change that’s come about as a result,” he said.

Community activist Will Rivas came up with the idea, Clifford added, police leadership embraced it, and the community made it happen.

How soon the panel gets a chance to vet potential police recruits remains to be seen, as the department is shrinking, not growing.

The Police Department lost nine positions in the 2021 budget as the city struggled to meet its expenses. But the chief is expecting some retirements this year, and if federal aid comes through, he may be able to replace them.

“We’re hopeful President Biden’s administration will bring us some funding that will allow us to hire,” Clifford said.

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