SCHENECTADY — A plan to expand the presence of police officers in city schools is heading towards final approval after the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday advanced a resolution signing off on the proposal.
In a 2-0 vote, the committee advanced a three-year contract between the city’s police department and school district that would place up to six community engagement officers in schools. The vote comes two weeks after members moved to table the proposal in order to probe the program and further vet the contract.
Council members Carl Williams and John Mootooveren voted to advance the proposal. The committee’s third member, Carmel Patrick, was not in attendance, though she has voiced support for the program in the past.
A final vote is expected to take place at next week’s City Council meeting.
Williams, the committee’s chair, said he voted to advance the proposal after listening to concerned residents for and against the program and meeting with the district’s superintendent and one of the community engagement officers that has been working in Schenectady High School since the program launched last fall.
“I understood this coming before the council, it wasn’t our authority to approve it or disapprove it,” he said. “It was our responsibility to make sure it actually read as it was intended. It is our responsibility to ensure the city and its residents are protected and that this achieves the aim of what it was meant to be.”
Monday’s vote caps off two months of debate that saw dozens of community members attend school board meetings to voice opposition for the program, with many arguing that officers have no place in schools and their presence would serve only to traumatize students of color.
Others pointed to studies compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union that found the arrest rates for Black and brown students increase when police are present in schools and argued the district would be better off using the funds to bolster mental health services.
The Schenectady City School District Board of Education, in a 4-3 vote back in March, voted to enter into a contract with the city’s police department that would place two community engagement officers at the high school and see three officers divide time between the district’s middle and elementary schools. A supervising sergeant will also be assigned to oversee the program.
Under the agreement, the school district will pay the city $50,000 per officer the first year, with a 2% increase each year after.
Dozens of high school students walked out of class following the vote, leading to accusations that school board member Jamaica Miles, a prominent community activist and critic of the program, was using students to advance her political agenda.
Miles has denied organizing the rally, but has said she provided advice on how to safely stage the walkout after she was contacted by students.
Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. appeared virtually at Monday’s meeting to voice his support for the program.
He said the program has been a collaborative effort between the district and police department, and that the officers will serve as an additional layer of support for students and their families, which he has said repeatedly over the past two months.
“It’s been very beneficial,” he said. “It’s not a traditional school resource officer program. We’re really intentional about calling them community engagement officers because we’re trying to change the narrative.”
The committee also voted to approve a separate resolution proposed by Mootooveren that would ensure funds the city collects from the school district for the program are reallocated to the police department in order to bolster mental health services and hire additional community engagement officers — two priorities laid out as part of the city’s police reform plan approved last year.
Mootooveren noted that the original community engagement officer plans did not include placing officers in schools and believes it’s the council’s responsibility to ensure the plan is being implemented as intended.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.