A 20-year veteran of the Schenectady Police Department whose landmark career has followed his father’s groundbreaking service on the force will be named police chief today, sources told The Daily Gazette.
Mark R. Chaires, one of three assistant chiefs in the city Police Department, is to become the 18th police chief.
He will also become the first black man to head a 160-member force that has made a concerted effort to recruit minorities.
Chaires followed his father, Arthur Chaires, into the force. Arthur Chaires became the city’s first black police officer in 1952, serving 27 years with the department.
The announcement is to come this morning at a ceremony in City Hall. The event is to be attended by Mayor Brian U. Stratton and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. Stratton did not return a call for comment Wednesday evening. Bennett declined to comment through a spokesman.
Also contacted Wednesday evening and declining comment was Chaires himself.
Chaires, 52, topped four other candidates in a search that lasted nearly a year and stirred debate over whether the department needed homegrown leadership or an outsider.
The debate had been fueled by a department that has been troubled for much of this decade. One investigation by the FBI sent four officers to prison for drug-relatd offenses. Drug evidence has been stolen, resulting in prison time for another officer.
Just two weeks ago, three officers were indicted on misdemeanor counts of official misconduct for allegedly failing to follow procedures in a controversial arrest last December. A grand jury declined to indict on more serious allegations.
News of Chaires’ impending appointment was greeted Wednesday night with applause from ACORN, a local neighborhood group that had promoted Chaires as its choice for the post.
Chris Dixon, group organizer, said members were thrilled to hear Chaires was picked.
“That’s good!” Dixon said, then quickly added, “We feel he’s capable, but he’s also going to have to be accountable. So we think it’s good, but we’ll see.”
Bennett had said he’s never seen a neighborhood group lobby for a particular chief promotion before, and said it would have absolutely no effect on his recommendation.
“This is not a popularity poll,” he said last month. “Opinion really doesn’t have a place in the process.”
ACORN, which stands for the Association of Communities Organizing for Reform Now, represents several neighborhoods in the city, but primarily focuses on Hamilton Hill. Some of Chaires’ relatives are members of ACORN, but Dixon said that wasn’t why they supported him. They wanted a chief who had worked his way up through the Schenectady ranks and was familiar with the city and its troubles, he said.
He also said ACORN was impressed with Chaires’ education.
“There was no one better,” he said.
But, a career-long member of the department is what the city doesn’t need, another community activist said Wednesday night.
Fred Clark, of the local NAACP, said he would have criticized any internal choice.
“I would be very disappointed if any of the assistant chiefs got the job,” Clark said, “mainly because of the fact that all of them were present and on the force when all that corruption went down.”
Chaires became one of the finalists when he scored a 70 on the police chief’s exam, receiving extra four points for a 74 as an internal candidate.
He was joined on the finalist list by fellow Assistant Chief Michael Seber and three outside candidates, retired Albany police commander Steven Stella, Troy Assistant Chief John Tedesco and Poughkeepsie police Capt. Steven Minard.
The chief position is advertised at a salary of $115,000, an increase from the $109,000 that former chief Michael N. Geraci Sr. was to make this year.
Chaires was a finalist for the chief’s job in 2002. That year, he lost out to Geraci. Tedesco was also a finalist in 2002.
Geraci left in October 2007 to take a position with the federal government.
The department has been without a chief since, however the presence of Bennett as public safety commissioner appeared to reduce the urgency to fill the post.
Bennett, to whom Chaires will report, has been running the department along with the three assistant chiefs.
Chaires was promoted to assistant chief in 2001, when he became the highest-ranking black officer in the history of the department.
Chaires has a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University at Albany. He joined the department in 1988 and was supervisor of the department’s now-defunct plainclothes street crimes unit and led the community policing unit before becoming assistant chief.
He won the promotion despite bluntly criticizing then-Chief Gregory T. Kaczmarek’s decision to eliminate the street crimes unit just a year earlier. He knew he would face internal punishment if he made his criticism public.
Chaires signed on with the department after serving eight years with the Air Force. He handled military working dogs, supervised working dog teams and supervised security police emergency services teams.