A group of Schenectady police officers hired strippers to help them celebrate at their annual Christmas party this week.
It was a decision the assistant chief and mayor deemed to be “at least” poor judgment — and, at worst, a situation in which officers could easily break the law.
“Wow, that’s a first,” Assistant Chief Brian Kilcullen said. “We’re going to thoroughly investigate it.”
Police want to find out what happened, whether laws regulating strippers were broken and why the platoon’s leaders approved the party.
Teachers at the Zone 5 Law Enforcement Academy were stunned by the party as well, with one calling it “felony stupid.” The academy’s director, Pat Smith, said he would immediately expel any student who held such a party.
“There’s nobody who tolerates this anymore,” he said. “We stress behavior for all 27 weeks [of the academy]. If they did something like that, they’d be out of here.”
On Wednesday night, Schenectady’s midnight platoon — mostly young officers working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift — gathered at a retired officer’s bar to drink and watch dancing women take off their clothes for hours. Their spouses were not invited, another red flag, according to city leaders.
Tops in Bottoms Entertainment confirmed their strippers were hired to perform for hours at the party at Johnny Goo’s Clam Shack on Lower Broadway.
It was a situation fraught with peril, law enforcement trainers said. Smith said he advises recruits to avoid such situations. He said such events create the appearance of impropriety and also offer great temptation — particularly because alcohol is usually involved.
If any officer went too far, either by touching a tantalizing woman or allowing a dancer to get fully naked, they would violate the law, according to several district attorneys.
There is no proof officers did anything other than watch mostly naked women, and the city’s attorney cautioned that strippers are experts in making a dance look like sex. It’s a game of inches — with criminal punishment for anyone who is overwhelmed by temptation.
Touching a woman’s sexual areas would constitute prostitution, a misdemeanor. If any dancer bared either her breasts or her bottom, it would violate the city’s decency laws, although the party was private and likely exempt.
Allowing the women to bare themselves entirely would violate state Liquor Authority laws, which ban alcohol in such cases. The law was written on the theory that mixing alcohol and sexual tension was more likely to lead customers to violence and other misbehavior, according to the legislation.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he was awaiting the outcome of the police department’s investigation before issuing a statement. He said he was waiting to find out whether the party was “something inappropriate, illegal or just a poor decision.”
“The whole matter’s under investigation,” he added.
Kilcullen agreed, saying, “I would say someone exercised poor judgment, deciding to employ the services of adult entertainers.”
While most platoon Christmas parties involve alcohol, he said, they don’t normally hire strippers.
“This was not the typical platoon party,” he said.
He promised to take the situation seriously.
“We’re going to talk to everybody. We’ll be knocking on doors,” he said. “We can start with identifying who was off [that] night, who was at the party. Talk to the workers, the owner.”
Among the many questions asked by Zone 5 Law Enforcement Academy officials were whether there was a designated driver and whether anyone was stationed to remain sober and watch over the group to make sure they didn’t take things too far.
Smith, who is also a retired Schenectady assistant chief, said parties should be in “safe” locations. He’s nixed some party locations proposed by his recruits, including a request for an afternoon graduation party at Saratoga Spa State Park.
“Too easy to have drinking go on all afternoon long and then people get into cars and drive home,” he said. “I would prefer that they go to a restaurant. First off, it’s contained. The [location] usually has staff there to maintain order.”
And even so, instructors attend the party and keep watch over the students as they drink, knowing all too well that some students may drink to excess.
Instructor Ed Frank, who runs a program called Choices, hammers on the issue of drinking during his class with the recruits.
“We pound it into them. This is the consequences. You’re carrying a gun and a badge now,” he said. “It’s a wakeup call.”
He tells them to have “a little bit of common sense” and arrange for a designated driver.
He also warns them to plan parties that can’t get out of control. One of his examples of wrong behavior: the bus trip Schenectady officers took through the city during a bachelor party. They got drunk at various bars and began throwing eggs from the bus and yelling racial slurs.
He said the party with strippers reminded him of that event.
“Know what? You can’t fix stupid,” he said. “This is felony stupid. You want to be treated like a professional, act like it.”