That Sunday Gazette story about the Schenectady Police Department’s dismal crime-solving record probably didn’t shock too many city residents — or even casual observers of the region. Sadly, the statistics, which show that the department is well behind the national averages in solving most serious crimes, confirm years of anecdotal evidence that have pointed to a poorly run department.
For 2005-2007, murder was pretty much the only serious crime the department was any good at solving. (Fortunately, there aren’t very many of them in the Electric City.) But when it came to rape, the solve rate ranged from a dismal 35 percent in 2005 to an even more dismal rate of 15 percent in 2006. Arrests for arson were even less impressive — ranging from 7 percent last year to 21 percent in ’06. Schenectady cops did slightly better with aggravated assaults, making an arrest in roughly one of every three over the past three years. But when it came to theft crimes — burglary and larceny — forget about it: Their batting average was consistently in the single digits!
As the Gazette story pointed out, not only were the department’s arrest rates substantially lower, in most cases, than the national averages, they were lower than those in the city of Troy, which is smaller in population than Schenectady but similar in many other respects (physical size, median income, poverty rates, etc.) And Troy’s police department is roughly one-third the size of Schenectady’s.
The response from Wayne Bennett, the city’s Public Safety Commissioner, was hardly reassuring: excuses, equivocations and finger-pointing. Gary McCarthy, head of the city council’s Public Safety Committee, at least expressed a little of the outrage taxpayers must be feeling, and promised to push for a departmental reorganization in this year’s budget proposal.
Resource limitations, which translate into size restrictions, may have something to do with the department’s problems. Contractual loopholes that let the rank and file call too many shots on staffing and work rules, also don’t help. But at some point, Bennett, the city council and Mayor Brian Stratton have to stop making excuses for this department and figure out some ways to improve its performance. The failures have gone on far too long.