SCHENECTADY – In response to calls for police to engage with the public more often – a refrain repeated during the lead up to the city’s police reform and reinvention plan – officers will take to the parking lot of the State Street and Brandywine Avenue Trustco Bank 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Police Chief Eric Clifford said.
Visible from their RV-style mobile operations support unit that it usually brings out for major emergencies, city officers will be joined by representatives of the Fire Department, code enforcement and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department.
“We definitely want to engage with the community,” Clifford said Wednesday. “We want to hear from them what they want from us, and that’s how we improve, is from the feedback.”
At the event, police want to talk to children about bicycle safety and give away helmets. They also want to talk to senior citizens about ongoing financial scams that target the elderly.
The Fire Department will conduct blood-pressure screenings, discuss fire safety and gather information from anyone in need of smoke detectors, to refer them to the American Red Cross, Assistant Chief Don Mareno said.
The sheriff’s office will check and install child safety seats in vehicles and promote both their child identity program and Explorer program for young people wanting to learn about law enforcement.
The city code enforcement department will be available to discuss the importance of the permit process, and answer questions about enforcement and city ordinances.
School superintendent Anibal Soler, Jr. is also expected to attend.
MVP Health Care and Trustco Bank will also have tables.
Mayor Gary McCarthy and Clifford said police want to hold “pop up” events in the future, bringing the mobile operations unit to other neighborhoods.
Doing so will be in lieu of requests for the city to put police substations in neighborhoods, another common refrain from the public during police reform steering committee meetings.
McCarthy and Clifford say the city’s 11-square-mile footprint isn’t large enough to warrant substations.
“We make a large investment each year buying police cars to move around,” Clifford said. “So, in the past, in our history, before we used cars to drive around the city, we had multiple precincts throughout the city, and that’s where officers would report and then they would walk from those locations to do their patrols.
“The reality of it is now, with 11 square miles, it just doesn’t make sense to have substations throughout the city, because there’s a cost of renting or owning the building,” the chief said, referencing internet connection, power, heat, and staffing.
Manning a substation would be a challenge because Clifford said he will soon be down 15 officers from its full complement of 160 officers. He said he has 148 officers, but expects to lose three to retirements. The other nine positions were left vacant during last year’s budget challenges related to lack of revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With fewer officers, Clifford said the community engagement effort relies on officers working overtime along with officers working their regular shifts, depending on emergency call volume at the time.
Clifford noted that the department has operated under a community policing model during his entire 19-year career in the department, and during the last five years it’s made a concerted effort for walking beats.
Its neighborhood engagement unit led by Lt. Ryan Macherone, supported by Sgt. Nick Mannix, works with patrol officers to encourage officers to walk and engage with residents and businesses, Clifford said.
Clifford asked residents to check the department’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for future dates and locations where police will be returning with the mobile command unit.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we are still located permanently at 531 Liberty St., and are always available for members of the community to come and speak to us,” Clifford said. “But we want to make it a little bit more convenient for them.”