Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said issues raised about the Niskayuna Police Department in the resignation letter of an officer will not impact the town’s police reform plan which is set to be voted on next week.
Syed, along with other Town Board members and members of the Police and Public Safety Committee, held a special meeting Wednesday in which the letter was discussed.
In the letter addressed to Chief Fran Wall, Carlton Kuhlmeier said he is leaving the Police Department because of ongoing stress and an unhealthy work environment at the department, which includes a “lack of support from previous administrations and the town and the lack of funding from the town to get necessary equipment and training.
“It has been too many years of headaches and hope of a possible turn around that I have decided to seek better employment,” Kuhlmeier said in the letter.
Deputy Police Chief Michael Stevens said during the meeting Kuhlmeier sounded like a disgruntled employee. Stevens said that whenever an employee resigns they say it is because of low morale or lack of training.
“I think it’s a safe assumption officer Kuhlmeier wasn’t happy here, if that’s why he’s leaving,” he said. “Does that make him disgruntled? I don’t know. To me it kind of would, if I’m leaving where I’ve been, where I have a retirement, but that’s my opinion.”
Attempts to reach Kuhlmeier were unsuccessful.
In his letter, Kuhlmeier said morale deteriorated after Dan McManus was promoted to chief of the department.
“Ever since the promotion of former Chief McManus the morale of the entire police force was on a steady decline ultimately reaching a breaking point causing anonymous letters and accusations to be made,” Kuhlmeier said.
McManus, who was appointed in 2014, retired in September 2020 after he was put on paid leave while the town investigated him for alleged violation of town policies. The investigation was dropped upon his retirement. Syed said an investigation into Stevens is ongoing and offered no further details. Attempts to reach McManus were unsuccessful.
Kuhlmeier also said the department has been understaffed for years, which has caused stress on the officers working there. He also said officers have gone without proper training, including no active shooter training in 11 years.
Stevens rebutted the claim. He said there have been trainings over the years, but “maybe not to the scale we wanted to do them.”
He said there can be scheduling issues for training.
A county-wide active shooter training took place late last year at Schenectady High School, he said. Stevens also said that scheduling training for officers isn’t always easy. Active shooter training also isn’t a requirement of the department, Stevens said. Officers are required to have firearms training and train twice a year at the shooting range, he added. Stevens said the town is actually looking at hosting the active shooter training this year.
Kuhlmeier said the town has not backed the department enough over the years and especially now with measures for police departments to reform.
“The town was consistently made aware of the unhealthy work environment, need for officers, need for training and equipment but seemingly did not care,” he said. “Now an already broken down police force is being hung out to dry by the town when the public and the New York State government are scrutinizing police during these unprecedented times. As an officer we understand the dangers of the job and being screamed at is normal. However the dangers of the job increase ten fold when an officer working the street knows their employer will question their every move and not handle officer injury claims adequately or appropriately. This ultimately creates a public safety hazard not only for the officers but also for the town residents.”
A recently completed racial bias audit by CNA, a non-profit research firm from Virginia, confirmed some of the issues Kuhlmeier raised, including:
- The department does not have an early intervention system that would “identify behavioral issues, signs of job exhaustion, and training concerns that could be handled in a proactive manner before an issue arises.”
- Officers haven’t received sufficient training in the past, but is something the new chief is working on.
- The department does not have a performance evaluation plan, so not all officers receive feedback on how they are doing in the department.
Kuhlmeier had nothing but praise for Wall, who was not at the meeting, even though committee members said they asked her to attend. She declined to comment Friday on the letter.
Town board member Denise Murphy-McGraw said she wasn’t sure if the letter would raise any concerns with the reform plan but looked forward to discussing issues raised in the letter with other board members. In her 12 years as a board member she said she never had an officer say the department wasn’t a good place to work.
“Of course, over time specific issues have been raised, but no officer has ever told me they don’t feel supported,” she said. “Whenever the chief, deputy chief, or chairman of the Public Safety Committee have presented us with funding requests for equipment or training, I have voted in favor because I respect and value the men and women who have sworn to protect our community. “
Syed said complaints about staffing raised in the letter will be discussed at the next Police and Public Safety Committee meeting at 8 a.m. April 6.