Schenectady police hope to bolster training unit with federal grant

Jayla Downs (left) and twin sister Jaelynn Downs, 5 of Schenectady, takes a sticker badge from SPD officer Duane Bechand at St. Luke’s Church in Schenectady on Aug. 19.

Jayla Downs (left) and twin sister Jaelynn Downs, 5 of Schenectady, takes a sticker badge from SPD officer Duane Bechand at St. Luke’s Church in Schenectady on Aug. 19.

SCHENECTADY — City police are hoping to use a federal grant to bolster the department’s training unit as a way to get officers up to speed with ongoing reform efforts. 

The department was recently awarded a $125,000 grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, which oversees community policing efforts under the U.S. Department of Justice.

The grant is part of the COPS Hiring Program, which awarded $139 million to 183 police agencies across the country this year to hire additional officers to reduce crime and strengthen community engagement, according to a news release. The program has awarded $14 billion to assist in the hiring of more than 135,000 police officers across 13,000 police departments since 1994.

“We are committed to providing police departments with the resources needed to help ensure community safety and build community trust,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The grants we are announcing today will enable law enforcement agencies across the country to hire more than 1,000 additional officers to support vitally important community oriented policing programs.”

Patrick Irwin, a spokesman for the Schenectady Police Department, said the department hopes to use the funds to hire an additional officer for its training unit but is awaiting further guidance on how exactly the money can be used.

“We are waiting to be awarded the grant money to see if there are specific conditions as to how the money is to be used,” he said in an email. “Our plan is to use it to expand our training unit. This way we will be better equipped to train our officers on community relations, mental health issues, and harm reduction that we have been working on with police reform.”

A state-mandated police reform plan adopted by the City Council earlier this year calls for adding additional community engagement officers to the department. The officers receive specialized training in harm reduction, mental health issues, as well as community mediation.

The department had two such officers when the plan was formally adopted.

Community engagement officers will be tasked with engaging individuals in a mental health crisis and directing them to the proper services throughout the Capital Region, according to the plan.

“This is done with the understanding that, although police officers cannot replace a professional counselor or peer advocate, they are often the first on the scene and the first to make contact,” the plan reads. “Having the right person at the right time, who has a better understanding of an individual’s needs and challenges, could increase the chances of a successful outcome for the individual.”

Four other municipalities in New York received funding under the grant program, including Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County; St. Lawrence County; the town of Ashford, Cattaraugus County; and the Long Island village of Freeport.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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