A couple months after Schenectady County earned the dubious title of having the state’s highest crime rate per 100,000 people, officials are proposing a new unit aimed at cutting down on criminal activity throughout the county.
County leaders announced Tuesday funding for a Street Crime Interdiction Task Force, which would be composed of officers from the Sheriff’s Department and municipal police departments. The unit would focus on thefts, break-ins and other quality of life crimes, officials said.
The goal, officials said, would be to provide an additional resource that could combat crime at the local level and focus on problem areas to address the underlying causes.
“It would primarily focus on thefts and robberies, but it really could go into anything,” said County Legislator Rory Fluman. “It’s not designed for drug interdiction because we already have a county and state task force that does that. But, if we have information of where folks are going and stealing stuff, it’s those nuisance crimes, those quality of living crimes we’re going after.”
The County Legislature would foot the bill for the program, which is expected to receive roughly $2 million in funding in the 2018 budget. About $1.2 million will be taken out of the county’s general fund, while another $800,000 will come from bonds to cover cameras, traffic readers and other new technology, Fluman said.
The unit would fall under the direction of a committee made up of the county sheriff and the police chiefs of Schenectady, Rotterdam, Niskayuna, Glenville and Scotia. Each of those agencies would be asked to provide officers to staff the unit. The county would reimburse participating municipalities to cover their costs, Fluman said.
The concept is still in its infancy, and no municipality has officially agreed to be part of the effort, Fluman said. More details will become clear once the county, city and town budget processes are finished in the next five weeks. If approved, the county funding would become available on Jan. 1, 2018.
When asked Tuesday about the initiative, local police chiefs were generally supportive of the effort. However, some have questions about the staffing impact the proposal could have on an individual department.
“There are different things we all have to look at as far as cost and energy that goes into being part of this,” Scotia Police Chief Pete Frisoni said. “It’s definitely an intriguing endeavor, but we all have our limitations on what we can bring to the table from a staffing standpoint.”
For example, the Scotia Police Department has only 12 officers. While the county would cover the cost of a replacement officer, it could take up to a year for a new recruit to complete academy and field training, leaving an already small department down an officer, Frisoni said.
While Glenville Police Chief Steve Janik supports any measure that would reduce crime in the county, he shared a staffing concern similar to Frisoni's. Glenville has a department of 22 officers, including the chief, and handles the second most crimes per officer of the county's towns, behind Rotterdam, Janik said.
“For me to physically support the county’s efforts to create a crime reduction team, right now I need my people here,” he said. “I need my officers protecting the citizens of Glenville that live in my town.”
Janik also wondered what might happen if the task force were disbanded, saying he was unsure if the municipality would shoulder the cost of taking an officer or two back onto its staff.
He acknowledged the project is in its early stages, and said he’s hopeful there will be more conversations on the topic.
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford expressed support for the proposal, saying he’s hopeful the Legislature approves the funding in its budget.
In Niskayuna, where the Police Department has nearly 30 officers, Police Chief Dan McManus called the task force proposal a good measure.
“Rather than maybe giving each municipality a certain number of officers to complement their staff, this allows a concentrated group to be put out there in a targeted and proactive way,” McManus said. “Rather than having to answer calls, they’ll have more freedom to look at the underlying problems.”
The announcement came one day after the FBI’s crime statistics for 2016 showed an overall downward trend in property crimes nationally, and an overall decrease in violent crime. Those statistics varied in Schenectady County municipalities compared to 2015.
Violent crime dropped in Scotia, but rose in Schenectady, Glenville, Niskayuna and Rotterdam over the same time frame, according to FBI data.