SCHENECTADY — The city’s Civilian Police Review Board is understaffed.
“We’ve got a nine-person body and three openings,” Board Chairman Richard Shave told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
City Council President Ed Kosiur said the shortfall has led to a “major concern” that the body cannot operate as intended.
"They've had to cancel a couple meetings in the past due to a lack of quorum,” he said.
The civilian board requires a minimum of five members to meet. Shave said the body meets regularly, including last month, but acknowledged they did fail to garner the minimum number of board members legally required to convene a meeting over the summer.
Shave characterized the cases currently under consideration as largely trivial -- multiple alleged "discourtesy" cases, for instance — and said the body was in “relatively good” shape.
But the lack of members posed a dilemma because city police are fulfilling their obligations by working on their end to clear the cases, he said.
“We’re here to make sure Internal Affairs is looking into everything, and they seem to be,” Shave said. “Internally, we’re trying to get tough on ourselves."
The body reviews between three and eight cases per month, he said.
Kosiur said the City Council understands the importance of a civilian review board, noting tense police-community tensions in Troy and Albany stemming from a fatal 2016 encounter between an officer and a motorist and multiple incidents between civilians and law enforcement, respectively.
The independent body, which meets monthly, is the civilian arm of the police accountability process.
People can file complaints with Civilian Police Review Board for multiple reasons, including harassment, use of excessive force, use of abusive language, discriminatory treatment and criminal conduct.
"We just want to make sure they’re fully staffed,” Kosiur said, who hoped the update would spur nominating groups into action.
Under the current system, community groups each issue nominations, including the NAACP, Schenectady Inner City Ministry (SICM), county Human Rights Commission, Schenectady Unified Neighborhoods, League of Women Voters, Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and the City Council.
NAACP has submitted a resume for one candidate, Carl Williams, and the City Council’s Public Safety Committee passed a resolution on Tuesday approving his nomination.
If Williams’ nomination is approved, the two remaining vacancies are those left open by the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and county Human Rights Commission.
Shave said the nomination process is flawed and wants the City Council to consider ways to expedite the process, perhaps by allowing members to nominate a candidate plus an alternate.
He also asked City Council to authorize $400 for membership in the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which provides educational resources and training.
The idea of an independent investigator has previously been floated by former board chairman Richard Homenick and the Rev. Phil Grigsby of SICM, but Shave did not resurrect that discussion in his comments to lawmakers on Tuesday.
The Public Safety Committee approved sending the mayor’s office a formal letter to request allocating the funds from its line item in the budget process.
When a complaint is made, it is handled by the city police’s Office of Professional Standards, where city police personnel conduct an investigation.
Subsequent findings are sent to city Police Chief Eric Clifford, who then determines appropriate action, which could range from termination, suspension or a reprimand depending on the severity of the complaint.
Alternatively, an officer might not be disciplined.
Once the case is done, it’s sent to the review board, which reviews the police report, phone calls and anything else that’s relevant to the case before voting on whether it was properly handled by the Police Department, or if it warrants further action.
Meetings are held the second Wednesday of each month and are open to the public.