In recent years, every time a new group of recruits was sworn in, we’ve heard about how the Schenectady Police Department has turned the corner and these new officers are a different breed from the trouble-prone older ones. And just in case, they’d get a stern “You represent the department, we have high expectations and won’t tolerate any misbehavior” warning from the mayor.
Judging by the Christmas party at a local bar where a platoon of mostly young officers drank and watched strippers (and perhaps more than that), the corner is more like a circle and the new officers are not that different from the old ones after all.
The department says it’s conducting an investigation and Chief Mark Chaires, in one of his last official acts before retiring at the end of the year, is expected to issue a report this week. The report doesn’t have to be made public, but should be — at least as much of it as possible. Schenectady residents should know exactly what went on there and whether platoon leaders approved the party, as appears to be the case.
And, although state law prohibits the public disclosure of an officer’s disciplinary records, that doesn’t mean the department can’t reveal more broadly what disciplinary actions were taken, if any. This assumes no physical contact went on at the party, such as officers groping or engaging in sex acts with strippers. If any did that, it could constitute a crime, and the name of those charged could be released.
Drinking is, of course, a legal activity, and seldom a problem when done in moderation, especially at home. But Schenectady cops have a long history of drinking at bars, not always moderately, and getting in trouble there or afterward. Adding strippers to the equation is also not illegal, but dangerous and stupid. (One wonders if this kind of thing would have happened if the almost totally male department had more female officers.)
Booze, which breaks down inhibitions, and sexual tension are a volatile mix. That is why instructors at the Zone 5 Law Enforcement Academy in Schenectady, which trains officers for the region’s police departments, harp on the importance of drinking in safe places and avoiding such situations.
And why city and police leaders shouldn’t tolerate this type of behavior. Even if everything was legal, these officers acted badly and brought discredit on themselves and the department. There need to be consequences for that.