Niskayuna – Before the Niskayuna Town Board could even name a new police chief, interim police chief and candidate for the position Fran Wall announced she will retire from the department on or around June 11.
In a letter to employees of the Police Department, she said her departure comes because of a lack of support from the Town Board for her progressive ideas on how to change the department, which she felt would lead to a safer working environment.
“My thought is that some people have an issue with me being the chief of police and with my progressive approach to operational change,” she said in an email to police personnel. “The Department, therefore, is suffering as a result. Just do the math. Now, I am not a political type and I operate by a simple set of Marine Corps ethics. I take pride in my integrity. I know that I have done some good for our Department, and I am at peace with choosing to retire. I now need to focus my efforts where they will do the most good. Teamwork is supposed to make the dream work. Yet, a hostile and toxic workplace environment tends to drain the soul. So, shame on those that deserve to be shamed.”
Wall said the town relished in the limelight for having the first female officer lead a department in the county, but she soon felt it was all a facade.
“The Town took a victory lap and enjoyed a good deal of media attention at that time,” she said. “I believe this was all ‘window dressing.’ Conversely, I made the mistake of thinking that the Town really wanted the Police Department to move in a new and more progressive direction.”
Wall said one of the biggest issues she has faced is getting more police officers and administrative staff while the town has chosen to hire workers in many other town departments. Wall said she has argued her case for increased staffing since she was made interim chief in July 2020.
“However, I have achieved little or no progress in this regard because I have received little, if any, cooperation and support from the Niskayuna Town Board in achieving requisite police hiring,” she said.
She said the increase in staffing is needed to meet the changing needs of the town, including a larger tax base and more commercial infrastructure. The number of officers in the department has not changed for 36 years, she said.
“The Department needs to keep pace with the hiring of a sufficient number of sworn working police officers in order to provide for adequate, requisite and safe police service within the town,” she said.
Staffing needs were recommended as part of the town’s police reform plan, she said, yet nothing has changed. She’s been without an executive secretary since December 2020 and has not had a working lieutenant since she became interim chief, she said. The lack of hiring is something Wall said never occurred during prior police administrations or in other police departments.
“The town knowingly permits these workplace conditions to continue,” she said. “The failure to approve hiring negatively impacts the safe and effective operation of the department.”
Wall said that last July the department had 30 officers, but with one resignation and two officers on inactive duty the department is down to 27 officers at the moment and another is set to retire within the next few months.
Wall also said an employee from another town department indicated in December 2020 that she needed to slow down with the changes she wanted to make. It was then, Wall said, that she wondered exactly who was running the town.
Wall’s sentiments echo those of Carlton Kuhlmeier, who left the department in March. In his resignation letter he said the department was an unsafe working environment, in part because of staffing levels. Statements made by that officer stuck with her, Wall said.
“I will not forget what was stated in that letter of resignation … ‘I too hope that you all know your self-worth and will not work in an understaffed department that jeopardizes our officers’ safety’” she said. “That resignation letter made me want to work even harder to rectify deficiencies within the department. The Town Board, on the other hand, was more concerned with appearances and damage control needed for the outfall generated by the letter of resignation.”
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said she just learned of the letter to the department Friday and called the claims by Wall incendiary.
“The town is set to begin the process of constituting our Police Reform and Reinvention Implementation Task Force this month, on which Chief Wall would have been a member, in part to implement the progressive changes that she desired,” Syed said. “While I cannot comment on the specifics of personnel matters, I believe that this email was authored as an act intended to change the narrative in anticipation of a determination into a workplace violence investigation.”
Syed would not comment on the details of that investigation. Wall said her resignation and the contents of her letter had nothing to do with the investigation.
Syed said Deputy Chief Michael Stevens will oversee the day-to-day operations of the department until a chief is named.
Both Wall and Stevens took the civil service chief exam, as did Sgt. Todd Frenyea and Sgt. Jordan Kochan. Syed had indicated Wall would likely become chief upon passage of the exam. Results of that exam have not come out. Stevens is also still currently under investigation by the town. Details of that investigation have not been released.
Wall joined the department in September 1985. Wall filed a lawsuit against the department in 2005 for gender discrimination but lost the trial in 2009. Also in 2009, Wall was involved in a police shooting after firing at a Schenectady murder suspect police thought was shooting at them, but had actually shot himself.