The City Council debated several proposed changes to bylaws and guidelines for the city’s Civilian Police Review Board during Monday night’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield presented to the committee numerous proposed changes voted on by the CPRB last month, including a measure to allow each of the board’s nominating groups to send a substitute member who can be trained in order to attend the meeting when the group’s primary member is unavailable, a proposal for the board to allow for open self-nominations, increasing the size of the CPRB from nine to 15 members, making changes to redaction policies for personnel complaints and investigatory source material including body cameras, and improved training for board members.
While several of the proposals were praised, including the designation of substitute members to more easily allow for the CPRB to fill quorums at its meetings, council members balked at several of the proposals, largely focusing on the lack of consensus in voting.
“Many of these points are not unanimous,” Councilwoman Carmel Patrick said. “I feel a little uncomfortable about that. I’d like to hear a little bit more on why they weren’t able to come to a consensus on some of these points. It seems like there’s a lack of support among several of the board members for some of these changes.”
Porterfield pushed back, noting that the CPRB — just as the City Council — doesn’t need unanimous consent to approve items, but only a simple majority.
“Let’s make sure we’re applying this [standard] uniformly,” Porterfield said.
Patrick, Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas and Councilman John Polimeni all bristled at the recommendations to change redaction policies.
Last June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo repealed Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law that shielded law enforcement misconduct records from the public, with the new law requiring law enforcement to turn over disciplinary records of officers when they’re requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
Though some council members also questioned the timing of the proposed changes given the relatively small number of cases referred from the CPRB back to Police Chief Eric Clifford, Porterfield said it fell in line with Cuomo’s executive order establishing the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which specifically mentions examining guidelines for community police oversight groups.
“Why now? To me, that’s pretty clear,” Porterfield said. “Since we have one, it just makes sense for us to do this while we’re doing our reform process.”
“It’s important,” she added, “that we don’t try to characterize this as an indictment toward the police department.”
Ultimately, Council President John Mootooveren said he’d bring back CPRB members to a future Public Safety Committee meeting for further discussion.
The committee also moved forward to the full council legislation that would allow the Schenectady Police Department to enter into a contract with Benchmark Analytics for $20,000 a year to utilize the Benchmark Management System, a workforce management system that would allow the department to input data in multiple categories — including internal affairs, use of force, community engagement and performance evaluations.
“It creates an officer profile that will allow us to better recognize early-warning information on officers and have a better idea of how their performance is in the community — both from an activity level and even to a complaint level,” Police Chief Eric Clifford said.
Also during the Public Safety meeting, Porterfield and Zalewski-Wildzunas also discussed continuing efforts to deal with speeding on city streets and measures to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Porterfield and Zalewski-Wildzunas said they’d both received a draft copy of a plan from Schenectady United Neighborhoods and Cycle Schenectady with both short- and long-term objectives to help remedy several issues.
Zalewski-Wildzunas also singled out problems with all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes “raising havoc” on city streets and “tearing up our parks” as the weather improves she hopes to put forward legislation to curtail that activity.
“Before we know it,” she said, “the snow will all be gone and we’ll be dealing with this yet again.”