It’s taken a bit longer than it should have, but Mayor Brian Stratton’s patience finally seems to have worn thin with Schenectady’s embattled police department. His plan to make examples of the department’s most egregious recent offenders, by pursuing their dismissal, seems a good one — likely to have impact and with minimal risk, even if it doesn’t ultimately succeed. But he shouldn’t hesitate to try it.
Recent Gazette editorials have advocated the dissolution of the department on the grounds that it is beyond repair, and we remain skeptical that anything short of dissolution can solve the city’s law enforcement problems. On the other hand, as Sunday’s Gazette story made clear, getting the county or state to take over this mess will be anything but easy; and thanks to state civil service law, whoever assumed responsibility for it would likely be stuck having to hire Schenectady cops before anyone else. So Stratton — who says he’ll continue to research the possibility of dissolution — is, in the meantime, being realistic in greatly stepping up pressure on the rank and file to behave itself. Giving the department the proverbial one last chance is certainly easier than pursuing dissolution, and while it might not succeed, it’s worth a try.
Trying to dismiss five or six bad apples simultaneously would give the Police Benevolent Association the message that Stratton means business in a way he hasn’t previously. Actions speak louder than the strong words that have been his usual response, and firing is about as extreme an action as he can take.
Whether the firings would hold up is another matter, of course. Stratton and Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett maintain they have the authority to take such action unilaterally, while the PBA claims the Public Employment Relations Board gets to make the ultimate call. The matter has yet to be decided in court, and won’t be definitively for several months at the earliest.
In the meantime, terminating these guys — for such serious offenses as driving drunk then leaving the scene of a personal injury accident; beating up a DWI suspect while taking him to the police station; driving drunk, then assaulting a passenger and fleeing the scene; driving drunk and violating numerous orders of protection to harass your spouse; and regularly taking hours off during a shift while also collecting huge amounts of overtime — seems justified.
From the city’s perspective, a worst-case scenario is that the firings would cost a lot of money to defend and wouldn’t hold up. In the meantime, though, the bad apples would have to stew in their own juices, pay their own legal expenses, and be ineligible to collect overtime. No officer would be likely to find such a prospect attractive, and the specter just might keep other officers honest. Wouldn’t that be a novelty?