Flanked by bins of trash placed at the curb for garbage pickup day, Schenectady officials on Wednesday announced plans to improve the citation system for quality-of-life violations.
The city is streamlining its process for holding offenders accountable for certain transgressions that negatively affect the quality of life in neighborhoods, such as littering, excessive noise and public alcohol consumption. Residents have complained of litter in the streets, garbage in yards and other issues that make life in certain areas less appealing.
The old process, Police Chief Eric Clifford said, was akin to arresting someone. Officers had to identify individuals, write reports and formally book them, a scenario that typically took about 45 minutes for each offender, he said.
The new process, which should officially go into effect within 30 days, will take half the amount of time and is similar to an officer writing a parking ticket. The officer will issue a citation, Clifford said, and the alleged offender will be given an appearance ticket to show up in court.
“There’s a sense in the public that we will overlook some of these smaller things because we’re too busy,” Clifford said. “We’ll no longer be too busy to address these issues.”
If an individual fails to appear in court and answer the charge, a bench warrant will be issued in their name, Clifford said. A copy of the citation will be entered into a city database to track offenders.
The changes could make the department more effective, he said. For example, the additional time could allow Clifford to put two officers on a walking beat and issue five citations in an hour in a given part of town.
The city code states individuals caught littering face a $250 fine for a first offense, and a $500 fine for a repeat offense. Clifford said the new process could also make it easier to police illegal firework use, which many residents complained about during the Fourth of July weekend.
The changes were in the works for about two months while the City Council collaborated with the Police Department and the Law Department, Councilman John Polimeni said.
He said the city is in the early stages of developing other initiatives to combat quality-of-life issues, but added that it will take a multipronged approach to be successful. That includes legal enforcement and self-policing among residents, Polimeni said.
In addition to the citation improvements, Robert Harvey, president of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association, has proposed tying litter cleanup to community service, something Clifford previously said he would support.
Harvey is hopeful that by partnering with Vale Cemetery Inc., a local nonprofit, clients who need to fulfill community service hours can be directed to dirtier parts of the city, and complete their requirements by cleaning a certain number of blocks.