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Editorial: Law to protect cops mostly hurts them

Editorial: Law to protect cops mostly hurts them

Keeping bad cops' misdeeds and discipline secret taints all of them

After a month-long investigation, Schenectady Police Chief Mark Chaires has released precious few details about the off-duty car accident that Assistant Chief Michael Seber got into Dec. 30, except to acknowledge that the department’s initial investigation into the accident was flawed and that three officers — not necessarily including Seber — will be disciplined.

As justification for not providing additional details, including what disciplinary action the unnamed officers face, Chaires cites an absurd section of state civil rights law that was passed three decades ago — at the insistence of the police unions after the Freedom of Information Law was passed — to keep cops’ authority from being undermined by embarrassing news. The problem in a case like this is that in sparing a few cops from embarrassment, the rest of the department’s reputation suffers. And the department’s reputation is already close to rock-bottom.

Was Seber drunk when he rear-ended that guy at the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Freemans Bridge Road at 9:47 p.m., after reportedly leaving a colleague’s retirement party? Or was he just a little buzzed? Or maybe he hadn’t been drinking at all? No one but Seber will ever know for sure because the cops at the scene handled him differently than they normally would someone suspected of being impaired by alcohol.

How did they handle him? Again, Chaires won’t — can’t — say; but he certainly implies there was cause for suspicion, stating that “standard tests probably should have been done” and that he will discipline three of the officers involved.

Once again, the cops appear to know a lot more about an embarrassing case involving one of their own than they’re willing to say. And given the department’s already sullied reputation, people are inclined to believe the worst when a story like this hits the papers and rumors start flying. Any of the officers involved could waive their right to privacy here, but that’s unlikely to happen. Better yet would be for the state to repeal this misguided law.

In the meantime, it’s never been clearer that the Schenectady Police Department needs a clearer, stricter reporting policy when it comes to legal infractions by its own members: When a superior is involved, the suspicions need to be reported to the chief. And if there’s an investigation, it should be done by an outside source, like the state police.

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