SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council on Monday set a public hearing on the city’s state-mandated police reform plan, even though the draft plan isn’t yet finished.
Without discussion, the hearing was scheduled for the March 8 City Council meeting, with the understanding a draft plan will be available for the public to review before then. The council will need to discuss and adopt some version of the recommendations before the end of March, given the April 1 deadline for submitting police reform plans to the state.
The city’s police reform plan, required of all municipalities with local police agencies under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order No. 203 last June, is being developed by the Schenectady Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, which as of its last meeting didn’t yet have draft recommendations.
The collaborative includes police department leadership, city elected officials, local clergy and others from the community, including a representative from All of Us. Mayor Gary McCarthy and Police Chief Eric Clifford co-chair the Collaborative.
The collaborative’s report will contain recommendations that are expected to cover a range of issues from community policing to use of force policies, but the report must be adopted by the City Council in order to be submitted to the governor’s office and take effect.
The collaborative last summer retained the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety in Albany to study policing and community needs and make recommendations for achieving the goals of Cuomo’s order: to improve trust between police and the community, increase fairness, and address any issues of racial bias in policing.
The order was issued following outrage across the country over police killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd, and as communities were grappling with Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial justice. Schenectady saw a number of peaceful protests last summer organized by a local group called All of Us, which issued demands for vigorous action against racist actions by police.
Those demands and the responses to them will be incorporated into the police reform report, though to what extent is still being debated within the collaborative.
At the Feb. 17 meeting of the collaborative’s steering committee, Clifford said any recommendations that come out of the review will be “thoroughly considered,” but wouldn’t commit to the department adopting them. The department has already adopted at least one recommended reform, namely, to have candidates for police officer jobs reviewed by a civilian panel during the hiring process. The first four hires who were subject to that review were announced last week.
The steering committee could also recommend changes to the operations of the city’s Civilian Police Review Board, a civilian panel with the ability to review complaints received against the police, but changing its role would require a separate approval from the City Council.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield has recommended giving it expanded powers to review and investigate police actions as part of the reform process, but other council members have resisted at least some of her ideas. The proposed CPRB changes are expected to be discussed again at the March 1 Public Safety Committee meeting.
Also Monday, the council voted to support proposed state legislation that would allow cities, towns and villages to set street speed limits as low as 25 mph. Current state law says the limit can’t be set lower than 30 mph without special state legislation, but advocates in Schenectady and in other communities across the state have called for lower limits as a way to make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The bill’s prospects are uncertain. It has a bipartisan group of backers in the state Assembly, but only recently picked up a state Senate sponsor, Sen. Rachel May, D-Syracuse; Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hasn’t yet taken a position on the bill. The legislation is now in committee reviews in both the state Assembly and Senate.
The effect of the law would be to make it easier for communities to lower the speed limit on local roads from 30 mph to 25 mph.
“We think lower speed limits will give police an additional enforcement tool and make the streets more comfortable for pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, a coalition of a dozen city neighborhood associations.