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New police chief

Changes on the horizon for Schenectady Police Department

Schenectady Police officer Eric Clifford was appointed the new police chief for the department on September 13, 2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Schenectady Police officer Eric Clifford was appointed the new police chief for the department on September 13, 2016.
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— Schenectady’s new police chief is in favor of body cameras and he believes his officers will be, too.

Chief Eric Clifford, speaking to The Daily Gazette’s editorial board this past week, said he sees body cameras as supporting officers’ efforts.

“I think our union would support it and embrace it,” Clifford said when asked about the devices, “because I’m telling our guys all the time, ‘You guys are doing everything you’re supposed to do. You don’t want to be second-guessed basically just because one piece of [an incident] wasn’t caught on video.’ ”

Clifford offered no time table for the implementation of a body camera program, acknowledging funding is a big hurdle. He said he’s asked Assistant Chief Michael Seber to look into the possibility of grants.

If successful, Schenectady would the third area police department to start using the cameras. The Albany Police Department started a body camera pilot program earlier this month, and Saratoga Springs has used body cameras for some time.

Clifford has been making the rounds with community groups in the weeks since Mayor Gary McCarthy named him police chief a month ago.

During a discussion last week with The Daily Gazette’s editorial board, he shared some of his plans for the department, both on the street and at headquarters.

Clifford wants to get officers into the community in a more active way, giving them time between calls to walk around and meet residents, ensuring they are comfortable approaching officers.

He intends to focus on the city’s drug problem, including street-level marijuana sales that can turn into bigger problems left unchecked, he said.

He also described his management style as collaborative. He likes roundtable meetings, getting input from a variety of people.

He said he expects to work closely with his boss, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, as well as his experienced assistant chiefs.

“As a group, we’re formulating all these different things that we’re doing or that we would like to do,” Clifford said. “My job is to sell it to the union, so that we don’t get any blowback.”

Inside the department, Clifford said he is looking at some reorganization. For instance, the department’s Youth Aid Bureau, which investigates crimes against children, could be expanded into a full Special Victims Unit to encompass all vulnerable victims, while also preparing for the possibility that the legal age definition of juveniles might increase from 16 to 18.

He’s already made a change that he sees as improving response times to accident scenes, making such response a top priority for traffic enforcement officers.

The department also has eight positions to fill. But, having hired as many candidates from the current civil service list as was practical, the department is waiting for the next test, later this year, to begin filling those positions, Clifford said.

Targeting drugs

Clifford has spoken of focusing on the drug trade, not only crack cocaine and heroin, but also marijuana.

Police late last month arrested 10 people in Mont Pleasant during a street-level marijuana sweep.

“In Schenectady, it’s a big deal,” Clifford said of marijuana.

While marijuana’s recreational use has been legalized in some states, Clifford said that, in Schenectady, “it’s creating these pockets of quality-of-life issues for neighborhoods. These pockets attract litter. They attract people just standing around doing nothing, which then leads to drug dealing, which then leads to gunfire because people are fighting over turf.”

Community policing

Clifford said his effort to get officers out into the community more hinges on efficiency; they can’t effectively engage with residents with the call volume the way it is.

He is working on strategies to reduce the number of calls. In one example, officers are sent to retrieve abandoned bicycles, but maybe another city employee can do that, he said.

Community policing itself could help, Clifford said. If officers are more frequently visible in neighborhoods residents may start talking to police about non-emergency situations, rather than calling dispatchers.

“It reduces the call volume because people feel comfortable just flagging down their local police officer to give them something that’s not necessarily a priority call,” Clifford said.

A new image

At the same time, Clifford is looking at how officers present themselves to the public, ensuring a more professional look — and a less threatening one.

He noted external carrier vests that have evolved to include pockets for pepper spray or Tasers or ammunition magazines. The vests are designed to get weight off the officers’ waists —weight that can lead to back issues.

Altogether, Clifford said, the vests make officers look like they were outfitted for a SWAT team.

“They don’t look very approachable,” Clifford said. “Is somebody in the public going to want to approach this officer and ask them for help? Or do they look like they’re militant?”

Clifford said he wants officers to be more selective about when they use the carrier vests.

He also wants to figure out a way to encourage officers to attend events while they’re not on duty — some way that won’t increase spending. He noted some officers already do.

Programs like the department’s basketball league have sparked interest in getting police teams together for other leagues, perhaps a cricket team to participate in the city’s Guyanese community.

“I want to start empowering our police officers to not only become community police officers in certain areas, but get there and stay there for a while,” Clifford said.

Better feedback

Overall, Clifford said he wants to empower officers with the right training and support.

He recalled receiving a text recently from an officer who previously worked closely with Clifford in the detective division. The text praised another detective for doing a good job on a series of gun seizure cases and expressed happiness to see that Clifford was giving the detective the ability to go out and do good work.

“I responded back to him that, ‘You’re going to see 2017 to be the age of empowerment at SPD.’ And I think that’s what it’s going to be. I want to empower people to go out there and do good work.”

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comments

Kota9
October 15, 2016
8:32 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Maybe this empowerment will also increase pay so officers who want to live in community can afford to raise families. Possibly having blue zones like some cities have. Let's not also go so PC we compromise cops safety

rsmall803
October 15, 2016
10:25 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

schdy' police officers salaries range from $42,400-$60,00. not included are bonuses, benefits and overtime. total avg. comp per year 75,800. this should be enough to keep police officers very secure living in schenectady.

JIMOCONNOR
October 16, 2016
10:51 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

i recognize value of passive intimidation. i also like and have tattoos. however i've encountered many young officers who are obviously 'bulked up' covered in tats. they've all turned out to be GREAT HELPFUL PEOPLE. however their initial visual presentation is not at all welcoming.

if a balance could be struck, it might facilitate communication '

rsmall803
October 16, 2016
11:34 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

well put, jimoconnor.

Kota9
October 16, 2016
1:37 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

75000 not enough for a job that is so dangerous, that's lower then all departments in the county. With 3 times the crime

catherine9966
October 16, 2016
2:16 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Military when placed in much more dangerous zones then Schenectady should make much more also!
But they don't! Why? Because they serve our country!
Maybe we should get rid of the police and bring the military in?

Kota9
October 16, 2016
3:05 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Most guys in SPD are military vets, military should get more in all for it, I'm a vet myself. But I left the war zone didn't have to have my family living in it. Military is not trained for community policing, Catherine9966. Would risk your family safety in same community as the criminals you arrested, good luck. Families off cops didn't choose the life, if your answer is pay everyone less. Well

Kota9
October 16, 2016
3:06 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Most guys in SPD are military vets, military should get more in all for it, I'm a vet myself. But I left the war zone didn't have to have my family living in it. Military is not trained for community policing, Catherine9966. Would risk your family safety in same community as the criminals you arrested, good luck. Families off cops didn't choose the life, if your answer is pay everyone less. Well, military pay is tax free also, it makes a difference

wmarincic
October 16, 2016
3:40 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Small minded people don't get it, the number one reason cops don't live in the city is for fear of retaliation, especially against their children. Imagine if your son or daughter are in school with the children or close relatives of someone that you sent to prison. Those issues are very real. Would you put your kids at risk?

catherine9966
October 16, 2016
4:13 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

I guess Landlords or Judges or perhaps even Lawyers, maybe even Doctors? Shouldn't live in the community that they work in or serve? Maybe even used car dealers?
I'm not sure about the living in the community thing?
I'm definitely for stiffer penalties for any kind of a hate crime related!
As for school kids? That does make a very good argument.

catherine9966
October 16, 2016
7:38 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

I'm trying to understand this better.
So even though there are occupations that for the most part mean no bad for others. But things can happen in that job to make others hate/dislike you, along with your family members.
That for that reason, these occupations should heavily consider living outside the community they work in.
Also even though Schenectady County Sheriff workers live in the county and also live in the city they work in.
Rotterdam police live in Rotterdam. Glenville police live in Glenville.
That.. The city of Schenectady is like a zoo! Therefore, the Schenectady city police should not live in the city they work in?

Will1960
October 17, 2016
8:50 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

While marijuana’s recreational use has been legalized in some states, Clifford said that, in Schenectady, “it’s creating these pockets of quality-of-life issues for neighborhoods. These pockets attract litter. They attract people just standing around doing nothing, which then leads to drug dealing, which then leads to gunfire because people are fighting over turf.”
/

The crime associated with the pot trade was a successful talking point in the state campaigns to legalize. In Washington and Colorado, pot arrests have plummeted which allows police to deploy its resources to more serious matters. The chief validates the argument that the prohibition of pot leads to violent crime. New York would be wise to ditch this antiquated and ineffective policy and follow the lead of Colorado, where its been a huge creator of jobs and treats adults like adults.

schdy50
October 17, 2016
10:15 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Marijuana is not a big deal the CRACK COCAINE AND HEROIN PROBLEM IS!...WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE SPD!

rsmall803
October 17, 2016
11:48 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

fear of retaliation? give me a break. your watching too many cop shows.

wmarincic
October 17, 2016
12:05 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

like I said, small minded....Get some facts. Also the schools suck.

catherine9966
October 17, 2016
1:10 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Becoming more clear..
So the Schenectady police expect more respect from the citizens that live in the city.
But members of the city police department don't feel that they/themselves should live in the city.
That the crime rate is too high, and the schools in the city suck!
hmmm.. I guess there is a problem here.
I'm not sure how police/public relations can improve with this?
Good enough for you to live here, but not us!
Live in Schenectady!?

wmarincic
October 17, 2016
1:55 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Common sense Catherine, the crime in Schenectady is very high including high violent crime. The crime is low in Rotterdam and Glenville, less chance that their kids will be subject to violence and your contention that Doctors and used car salespeople's children are subject to violence is foolish. BTW, you too can move to Glenville or Rotterdam.

catherine9966
October 17, 2016
6:23 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Fear of retaliation?
My point of comparisons. Was to point out the good that doctors do. As also the good police do. But if a patient's health declines that a doctor might be blamed for a misdiagnoses or wrongly prescribed medication, or a operation turning into further complications.
A used car dealer being blamed for a car breaking down. That the car dealer ripped off their customers in one way or another.
A landlord evicting someone.
I would think that it would also be as foolish to mess with these people's family as with also messing with a cop or his/her family.
Not sure if you're aware by your post? There are some places in the city that have a lower crime rate, that are quite nice!
Also having police and their families live in a neighborhood are very welcome by most. Along with their presence, Can Make a difference!

Kota9
October 17, 2016
9:15 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Catherine wow. I know of several officers who have lived in the city but as soon as they decide to grow family they move out. Dealing with a violent drug dealer, gang member a little different then experience of a car dealer, landlord. I love the city but am not naive, to what officers deal with. Is a different world for them, just read comments, people don't support officers. As a grandparent I would never put my grandkids at risk. Police do live in the city plenty of them do, my argument is more would, if more affordable, taxes lower etc. I have no doubt officer love the city and work hard to protect us from crime. You don't become a police officer for the money, not here. Catherine I don't get what's so hard to understand, a little research will yield some answers for you. Police are being attacked all over this country, where do you live sounds like the grass is really green there, not a cop but am looking to move.

ChuckD
October 17, 2016
11:18 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

I think most people have high respect for what cops have chosen to do.
I also think most people see that there's a systemic, cultural problem within law enforcement that shows as an abuse of authority and sense of entitlement. Too often cops only escalate situations when they should be doing the reverse.
I predict that as soon as cops show they all can work positively in communities and they're capable of policing themselves toward that end, they will see an overnight sea-change in the community attitude toward them.
It's not about rolling over for the bad actors. It's about winning hearts and minds (and understanding what that means).
There's a lot of that going on already but not nearly enough.
~
That's why the new chief's words above and even more, the words today of the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police are so important:
~
"The president of America’s largest police organization on Monday issued a formal apology to the nation’s minority population 'for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.'"
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true...

Full statement:
http://www.iacp.org/ViewResult?SearchID=...

catherine9966
October 18, 2016
12:12 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Gee,I was wondering why Rotterdam and Glenville crime rates are so much lower and the schools don't suck like in Schenectady?
I was wondering if minorities or income were a factor?
Or maybe the grass is greener?
Not to mention the high taxes.
Equality where?

rsmall803
October 18, 2016
11:29 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

small minded people say that warm... is an idiot.

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