Schenectady police in early stages of exploring use of ‘peace officer’ title

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the media on Jan. 9, 2020. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens looks on at left.

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford addresses members of the media on Jan. 9, 2020. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens looks on at left.

SCHENECTADY – As a means of promoting trust with the public during a response, Police Chief Eric Clifford said the department is considering adding a “peace officer” designation to their roles.

If approved, the “peace” reference could sit atop existing language on an officer’s cruiser, badge or vest, Clifford said.

Quoting from the Arizona-based nonprofit agency called Police2Peace, Clifford presented the idea during a steering committee Wednesday that meets periodically to follow up on the city’s police reform plan that was presented to the governor earlier this year.

Clifford asked for the committee’s feedback and he pledged to make further efforts to gain input from the public and within his own department.

“The people that trust the police, that support the police, this isn’t for them,” Clifford said Thursday. “This is for the ones that lack trust or are confused on whether they should trust us. This is more for them.”

Clifford acknowledged that the designation could be “a difficult sell” within his department because a peace officer is viewed as having a status below an officer, which he said wouldn’t be the case.

In New York and some other states, Clifford explained, there’s a distinction in criminal procedure law.

Peace officers in New York encompass corrections and probation officers, and they hold some law enforcement powers, but those enforcement powers are not equivalent to what police officers have, Clifford said.

It’s an easier sell on the West Coast because peace officers and police officers are one in the same, he said.

“The natural tendency is to think it’s a demotion, or you’re taking away my powers, and that will be part of the explanation, to explain that, that’s not the case,” the chief said.

I think it’s going to be a big lift,” he said of conveying that message internally, and possibly inviting Police2Peace’s executive director to speak to officers and the steering committee.

A PowerPoint presentation provided by the city contains several endorsements from police chiefs out West.

“The Peace Officer initiative provides an important and visible reminder to both the public and our staff of the role of police officers as peace keepers in our community which is an important direction for the country,” the organization quotes Police Chief Chris Catrens of Redlands, California.

Clifford said the idea builds on internal discussions about expanding Schenectady’s police chaplain program with retired officers, among others, who would speak to officers after major incidents.

“We just want to try to bring some faith back to our officers, and also give them those fatherly, grandfatherly figures –  retired officers, that could just talk to us if they’re stressed out or they’re going through something, to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been through this before. This is how you get through it.'”

The exploration process on whether to move forward with the peace officer designation may run the rest of the year before a final decision is made.

“I think we’re doing ourselves an injustice if we don’t explore it, regardless of whether we decide to do it or not,” Clifford said.

Other potential benefits come with affiliating with Police2Peace, the chief said.

The organization would conduct three-pronged surveys that report on the community’s impression of the police, the police’s impression of the community, and the police’s impression of itself.

In addition, there are trainings on officer wellness, resiliency, mindfulness and meditation aimed at helping officers cope with stress, anxiety and depression.

“We know that exists in our profession, even more so over the last year, year and a half, between the pandemic, and all of the anti-police sentiment that’s happening nationally,” Clifford said. “I can’t necessarily say that we’ve seen it at the same level here locally, but it might exist in pockets or on a case-by-case basis. Just like what happens nationally affects people locally, the same thing’s happening with the police.”

During the meeting, Molain Gilmore spoke favorably of the proposal, stating “semantics are very important for us,” as is “how we communicate with each other.”

Councilmember Marion Porterfield said the concept was worth discussing.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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