Here’s our one-word reaction to Mayor Gary McCarthy’s idea of having Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino do double duty as the city’s chief of police: puh-leeze. Or, to make it two words in the interest of absolute clarity, please don’t. Residents of Schenectady have been through too much, and the police department has come too far, to go back to those days when the PBA called the shots and officers felt they could get away with anything. That isn’t guaranteed to happen with McCarthy’s idea (brought to light Sunday by columnist Carl Strock), but there’s certainly a risk, and it’s not worth taking.
The door is open to McCarthy’s machinations because of the retirement of Police Chief Mark Chaires, who will be leaving soon. Chaires has done a creditable job in his time as chief, working with former Mayor Brian Stratton and Public Safety Commisioner Wayne Bennett in their successful effort to get rid of a dozen or so bad apples — or at least not standing in their way.
Three assistant chiefs have taken a promotional exam and McCarthy could pick one to replace Chaires. But he refuses to because he wants the next chief to live in the city, and none of them does.
We said in an editorial last month, after Chaires announced he was leaving, that not appointing a new chief was the right decision, but for the wrong reason. Wrong because the residency requirement could stand in the way of getting the best person for the job.
But there is nothing to lose, and something to gain, in this case by keeping the police chief job open. Bennett has proven himself quite capable of running the department as commissioner, and is willing to stay. The city could send a signal that it wants to continue with the improvements of the last few years, including in discipline, while at the same time eliminating an administrative layer and saving some money in salary.
McCarthy seemed to be leaning in that direction last month, but no longer. Now he is after something bigger: reorganization/consolidation.
A consolidated police department does make sense in a county as geographically small as Schenectady. But doing it by consolidating the alliance and power of the Democrats and Conservatives, of which Dagostino is a creature and the police union the driving force, would be going backwards.
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