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Schenectady police push back against NYCLU report on transparency

Schenectady police push back against NYCLU report on transparency

Issues being addressed, public safety chief says
Schenectady police push back against NYCLU report on transparency
Mayor Gary R. McCarthy swears in Michael C. Eidens as public safety commissioner in 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Police Department has responded to a recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union faulting the department for a perceived lack of transparency across several metrics, including details governing their “use of force” policy.

Schenectady police countered the data compiled for the report is outdated, and that the redacted portions of the use of force policies were not blacked-out by their department, but rather the city’s Law Department.

And the department has been reviewing all policies with transparency in mind as part of the ongoing effort to receive state accreditation. 

City police also criticized the civil liberties watchdog for failing to contact the department to determine if their observations were relevant to current practices.

“If the NYCLU had contacted the department, they would have learned that many of their conclusions were incorrect and do not reflect current practices,” wrote Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens in a lengthy written response to the report.

For the analysis, NYCLU filed Freedom of Information Law requests in 2015 with 23 police departments statewide for basic police functions and operations.

The most recent data statewide contained in the report was from 2017, but Schenectady police contend the data used to criticize their operations was between 4 and 6 years old. 

Eidens said city police have been working to boost transparency since Chief Eric Clifford was appointed in 2016, including the recent rollout of body cameras to all uniformed officers. 

The department also said NYCLU’s findings were not the product of a formal report, but rather a section listed on their website.

Schenectady police initially declined to comment on the report, which was released June 5, citing the need to read the full document.

NYCLU concluded the perceived information gap reinforces “the mistrust between police and the communities they serve” and stymies potential reform and political oversight because it’s impossible to fully assess the merits of the policies. 

But Eidens said city police have been working to deepen ties with the community, including creating new positions to lead neighborhood and community engagement, conducting department-wide training in “procedural justice and racial bias” and partnering with the FINN Institute to “implement academic research to evaluate our progress in developing police/public transparency.”

USE OF FORCE

The civil liberties group also criticized city police for withholding information on the types of situations authorizing the use of pepper spray and the types of weapons carried by officers.

Schenectady police acknowledged they will not release that information to the public. 

“The safety of our officers and citizens prohibits telegraphing that information to the criminal element,” Eidens said.

But as part of the accreditation process, the department is reviewing its use of force policies. 

“Many of the policies will be posted on the Police Department website by this fall, and all be available online, without redaction, within a few months of receiving [state] Department of Criminal Justice Services Accreditation,” Eidens said.

When it comes to NYCLU’s concerns over predictive policing — the group said incomplete or racially-biased enforcement data programmed into the system undermines the usefulness of any subsequent predictions — the department agreed:

“If they had asked, they would have been told that the department enters only the date and location of past criminal activity into a mapping program,” Eidens said. “The mapping does not predict where future criminal activity will occur — it tells us where people were victimized. It does not identify any of these locations by name, sex, religion, skin color or ethnic background. In short, the crime data that we collect is unbiased and objective. It is based only on when and where the calls for service originates.”

NYCLU Capital Region Chapter Director Melanie Trimble responded that the organization received all of its info from the departments themselves.

"Our initial FOIL request was sent in June 2015 and we have continued correspondence with the department since then," Trimble said. "The department informed us that the data for their predictive policing software comes from arrests, incidents, field interviews and calls for service, which often reflect the disproportionate enforcement in communities of color, which further perpetuates the disparate enforcement. We will be meeting with the department in the coming months to discuss various current policing issues.”

The Schenectady Police Department has since shifted to an “intelligence-led” policing model, the commissioner said, and efforts may result in devoting more department resources to certain areas for a period of time. 

“This is not biased policing — it is a neutral and transparent response to locations where criminals are victimizing our citizens,” Eidens said. “To suggest that this is racially-biased law enforcement is incorrect and causes harm to our efforts to promote good relationships between the police and our neighborhoods.”

No neighborhood ever requests less policing, he said.

If a particular area receives a high rate of calls for service, indicating a high victimization rate, the department deploys more officers and resources to those locations. 

“The people who live in neighborhoods where there is frequent criminal activity have the right to effective and responsive policing,” Eidens said. “We believe that policing should be constitutional and respectful and people victimized by crime deserve to be protected.

“To put it directly and simply, we deploy the most resources to the areas in the city where we get the most calls for service.”

The report also claimed city police failed to provide data on the number of stops or field interviews carried out by officers, as well as data on investigations into allegations of officer misconduct.

Eidens didn’t specifically address those points in his response.

But he said the department has monthly meetings to review and analyze “reported crime data” and all civilian complaints are reviewed by Clifford and forwarded to the Civilian Police Review Board.

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