SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Civilian Police Review Board is recommending it have expanded powers and a more formal structure, as the city works on plans to comply with the state mandate to review and reform policing.
The nine-member board, which has been in existence since 2002, is looking for several changes that would strengthen its powers. The recommendations were received Tuesday by the City Council, which would have to approve them, just before the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
Among things the Civilian Police Review Board is nearly unanimous about is asking for the ability to review police body-camera footage and recorded phone conversation when it investigates complaints about police misconduct, have better training for review board members, and extending the deadline for filing a complaint from 45 days to six months, and to publicly announce their meetings.
The board also was in favor, though by 4-3 split votes, of having access to personal information on the officers the board is investigating, who are now anonymous. (Members would sign non-disclosure agreements, and confidential informants and undercover officers would be exempted.)
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who has been pushing the hardest for the council to publicly discuss police reform issues, said she expects the review board recommendations to be discussed at the Feb. 1 Public Safety Committee meeting. She is a member of the committee.
A separate task force — the Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative — has been working on the city’s efforts to comply with the reform order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. There were several protests in Schenectady.
Porterfield said a beefed-up Civilian Police Review Board could play an integral role in police reform. ”Maybe not every community has a police civilian review board, but we do,” she said.
She also cautioned other council members that time is starting to run short, since municipal police reform plans are due to the governor by April 1.
The CPRB recommendations come after a series of Zoom meetings, some involving council members.
“Our board decided to work together independently of the collabortative to propose a set of improvements that might serve as a basis for government discussion and action,” the board said in its report to the council.
In the past, the board, which includes non-police representatives of the city and appointees from seven outside-government community organizations, has met as needed to review civilian complaints about police conduct. Its jurisdiction has been limited, though, because it doesn’t review complaints in which a lawsuit or notice of claim against the city has been filed. Under current rules, it also doesn’t have access to the Police Department’s internal investigation files.
While the substance of the recommendations wasn’t discussed at the committee meeting, some council members expressed support for the review board’s work.
Councilman Ed Kosiur, who is retiring later this month, said if funding were available, he would like to see the board have a paid executive director.
The civilian review board was created at the behest of civil rights and community leaders in 2002, at a time when the Schenectady Police Department had a reputation for tolerating officer misconduct. There has been tremendous progress in reforming the Police Department since then, Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
While changes to the review board’s operations would require City Council approval, at least one reform recommendation have already gone forward unilaterally.
McCarthy and Police Chief Eric Clifford have implemented a policy that Police Department recruits are reviewed by a civilian board — an initiative singled out for praise by Cuomo at a governor’s press briefing last week. The mayor and the chief have the authority to change the hiring process on their own, the mayor said.