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Schenectady police release use of force policy — quietly

Schenectady police release use of force policy — quietly

Schenectady police release use of force policy — quietly
Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford speaks with reporters after an officer-involved shooting in 2017
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

SCHENECTADY — As the nation is gripped with racially-charged unrest, city police have officially released their use of force policy for the first time. 

The newly-released document offers a window into when officers can use deadly force, which is permissible when: 

  • Attempts involving the use or attempted use or “threatened imminent use of physical force against a person” during a felony offense.
  • Kidnapping, arson, first-degree escape and burglary or “any attempt to commit such a crime.”
  • When suspects are armed with a firearm or deadly weapon when resisting a felony arrest or attempting to escape from custody. 
  • If necessary to defend an officer or another person from what the officer “reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force” regardless of the offense.

The department has had two officer-involved shootings in the past six months. 

Two officers shot and killed city resident Michael Wallace after he pointed a pellet gun at them when they arrived to a domestic disturbance call at Joseph L. Allen Apartments on March 24.

And last November in an incident at the same Hamilton Hill intersection, an officer fired a single shot in an attempt to stop a stolen car careening toward him on Hulett Street. 

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The attempt left the teenage joyrider with minor facial abrasions, although police haven't disclosed if those were caused by the subsequent scuffle during his arrest or the gunshot. 

While Sgt. Adam Willetts was cleared following an internal investigation, the newly revealed policy acknowledges shots fired at or from a moving vehicle are “rarely effective.”

The policy instead advises officers to move away unless they “reasonably believe there are no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officer or others.”

Wallace’s death is still under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office, city police Chief Eric Clifford said on Thursday. 

The policy was quietly posted without fanfare on the city’s website on May 27 — two days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, which set off national protests and mounting calls for reforms to the criminal justice system. 

The release also comes almost exactly one year after the New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the department for what they contended was a lack of transparency, citing heavily redacted documents regarding use of force procedures.

Police responded by saying the city’s Corporation Counsel’s Office redacted the documents, and they were simply fine-tuning procedures as part of a years-long accreditation process. 

CHOKEHOLDS ALLOWED

Floyd died after Officer Derek Chauvin, who was fired and charged with second-degree manslaughter, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. 

His death has been ruled a homicide, but experts differ on the exact cause.

An independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family said he died of "asphyxiation from sustained pressure" that cut off blood flow to his brain.

A medical examiner’s report attributed his death to heart failure, citing "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” CNN reported

Clifford has joined police departments nationwide in condemning the technique of kneeling on a suspects neck, which was used by Chauvin.

But chokeholds are still on the books in Schenectady, including the technique known as a “carotid control hold” performed when an officer wraps their arm around a subject's neck and applies pressure to the windpipe (but not on the windpipe itself).

Clifford said the technique would only be used when an officer believes his life is in danger — like during a ground fight when an officer loses his weapon, for instance — and has never been used by a city officer.

“Off the top of my head, I’ve never seen this used, not only during my tenure as chief, but in my career,” Clifford said.

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Following nationwide protests, departments are beginning to ban the chokehold, including the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and San Diego City Police Department, according to NBC 7 San Diego.

The New York City Council will vote on June 18 to criminalize the practice, reported the New York Post, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday called for a nationwide ban.

Community activist Damonni Farley wants city police to ban the technique.

“If it’s never been used, it’s clearly not going to be an effective method of subduing someone,” Farley said. “Why would that be an option?”

Clifford disagrees. 

“When it comes to protecting police officers, we have to give them every tool possible to protect them,” he said. 

The Capital Region has seen numerous protests since Floyd’s death on May 25, including a peaceful demonstration in Schenectady on Thursday.

Activists nationwide are calling for widespread reform of the criminal justice system, which they contend is rife with disparities that disproportionately affect minorities. 

While local activists continue to protest, they’re continuing to fine-tune their specific list of action items.

Organizers were tight-lipped on Thursday, citing ongoing discussions within the rapidly-expanding coalition in Schenectady, Troy and Albany.

“That conversation is coming,” said Shawn Young, an organizer with Citizen Action of New York.

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