SCHENECTADY — City Council decisions on whether Schenectady’s Civilian Police Review Board should have different rules or enhanced powers as part of police accountability reforms were postponed Tuesday after some of the proposals by Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Marion Porterfield got significant pushback.
After a lengthy discussion at a virtual committee meeting, further talk was tabled for two weeks to give City Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin time to do research on whether review board members should be required to sign confidentiality agreements, and whether the review board should know the names of officers whom they are reviewing complaints about.
The review board now uses a “double blind” system — as they review complaints, the board members don’t know the name of either the complainant or the officer — but Porterfield has proposed the officer’s name be disclosed, in keeping with last summer’s repeal of the 50-a law that kept police disciplinary records secret.
The repeal by the state Legislature was prompted by calls for police reform in the wake of last year’s protests over the treatment of Black people by police. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo subsequently issued Executive Order 203, which requires every community with a police force to develop a reform plan and submit it to the state by April 1.
Schenectady has reform reviews underway, but has yet to release a draft plan, though the City Council is scheduling a public hearing for March 8. Porterfield has advocated for expanding the role of the Civilian Police Review Board as part of the city’s response, since it already exists.
Since she first made some of her proposals in early January, Porterfield said she has received little feedback. But she got some on Tuesday, after officially proposing her changes, and it was opposed to key parts of her plan.
“I won’t agree to the releasing of the officer’s names,” said Councilwoman Carmel Patrick, joined by at least two other members of the council, which currently has only five members, with two seats vacant.
Asked whether a Civilian Review Board complaint would fall under the disciplinary file disclosure law, Koldin said an answer will require legal research.
Council members John Polimeni and Karen Zalweski-Wildzunas said they opposed Porterfield’s proposal that convicted felons be allowed to serve on the review board if they have completed their entire sentence and parole and their felony was not a crime against a police officer.
“Felons can vote,” Porterfield said. “They have paid their debt to society.”
When pressed by Porterfield about his reasons for opposing the idea, Polimeni said: “I just don’t agree with that … there is a potential conflict of interest.”
Koldin also was asked to do legal research on whether members of the review board — the membership of which consists of civilian appointees from community organizations designated in city law — can be required to sign confidentiality agreements, saying cases won’t be discussed outside of board meetings.
The law establishing the board refers to confidentiality as though it is required, but members have not been required to sign written confidentiality agreements.
The council appeared to settle on 45 days as the time limit for someone to file a complaint over a police incident. That would be an expansion from the current 30 days, but less than the six months that police review board members had sought.
Police Chief Eric Clifford warned that because digital camera footage is purged after around 30 days, unless it has to be retained as evidence in a criminal case, there would be a risk that digital documentation would have been erased if complaints were allowed more than 30 days after an incident had occurred.
The next council Public Safety Committee meeting will be March 1.