SCHENECTADY – Police urged the public to be on the lookout for officers wearing throwback powder blue shirts with orange “pie” patches at times through the summer.
The special 1950s-era uniforms are the department’s way of paying homage to its 150-year history while enhancing outreach efforts.
During a press event Wednesday, Police Chief Eric Clifford said the department couldn’t commemorate its 150th anniversary in June 2020 because it was three months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now that the pandemic is receding, police invited retirees to join present-day officers to celebrate the department’s founding on June 15, 1870.
At that time, the department was staffed with just a chief, assistant chief, and eight patrolmen who worked 12 hours a day, with one day off each month, enforcing laws by walking foot patrols on assigned beats, Clifford said.
For the actual 150th anniversary, which Clifford said was “something to be proud of,” the department wanted to design a special patch, pins, t-shirts and hold an open house.
A year removed, the department instead held a special fundraiser to support community policing efforts.
During the next three weeks, and every Thursday until September, patrolmen will wear the special retro-style shirt and patch, for which officers donated money to buy the uniform, and gave a bit extra, cumulatively raising more than $2,000, Clifford said.
The money will be given to the Schenectady Public Safety Foundation, with every dollar spent on programs that connect the police with the community.
Sgt. Jeff McCutcheon was credited with coming up with the idea for the powder blue uniforms.
McCutcheon recalled being a 9-year-old Northside Little League baseball player coached by now-retired Patrolman Rick DiCaprio.
When DiCaprio wore the light blue uniform and patch, McCutcheon said DiCaprio “might as well have been Superman.”
“He’s the person that made me want to work for the police department and who I’ve always attempted to emulate,” McCutcheon said of DiCaprio’s embodiment of community policing through his coaching.
Officers wearing the special uniforms will be given opportunities to interact with the public at community events, where they will bring either food and beverages, arts and crafts or other equipment that might be needed, Clifford said.
At times, officers might give out coupons for ice cream or treats based on this season, Clifford said.
It is hoped that the outreach has the added benefit of getting people to think about careers in policing, Clifford said of the 148-member department, which lost nine positions to cuts during the pandemic, and another five to retirements.
“Our goal is to start young, start interacting with the youth of our community at a young age to get them interested in the job,” the chief said.
“But we’re not stopping there. We’re also interacting with the teens of the community. They’re the ones that are a little bit closer to starting to think about career paths.
“And then we’re out there asking members of our community who actually are of the age and ready to go,” he said. ” ‘ Would you ever think about a career in law enforcement?’ And we’re explaining to them the benefits of becoming a police officer. We’re really encouraging some individuals to be part of the solution of the breakdown right now between community and policing.”
Clifford said the perception of a breakdown is bigger than reality.
“But perception is reality and until we break through that, we’re not going to get to where we want to be.”
Amid a wave of anti-racism, and policing protests across the country, Mayor Gary McCarthy noted the heightened level of scrutiny of officers.
“Police officers are expected to perform at high levels under complicated situations and make quick decisions,” the mayor said. “They’re well-trained, well-equipped, and I believe this is the best-performing department, the men and women that we have, in the history of it, and we want to continue to build on that legacy.”