Schenectady's Civilian Police Review Board’s fate debated
SCHENECTADY Members of the Civilian Police Review Board still aren’t showing up for monthly meetings, forcing the board to cancel date after date because it didn’t have a quorum.
The problem has gotten so bad that the City Council last week discussed how to change the board so that it could function.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said it might be time to simply abolish the board.
“Has it kind of outlived its means?” she asked. “Is this board even needed?”
She argued that since the FBI has now closed its yearslong investigation of the department, the board might no longer have an important role to play in watching for police misconduct.
The board is supposed to receive written complaints about police and review the police department’s investigation of each complaint. Board members have said they feel useless, however, because they rarely get enough information to determine whether the department’s determination was correct. Too often, the complaints are of the “he said, she said” variety, with no additional witnesses to back up either side.
The board wanted to hire an investigator to help, but the police union blocked that move. However, in recent years police began tracking down potential witnesses, as well as using audio and video recordings from police cars, to bolster their investigations.
Board members want more — they want a way to track, for example, police officers who are often reported as being unprofessional. They have argued that it would be easier to determine that an officer needed retraining if he or she had been repeatedly accused of rude behavior.
Police have argued that the officers’ names must remain anonymous for their own privacy.
But despite the problems, many council members said the board is still important.
“Personally, I think [it should stay] as long as complaints keep being made,” said Councilwoman Denise Brucker. “I’d say, give it another two years. I hear it’s very difficult for them to get a quorum, but I’d really hate to see the dissolution of that board.”
Other council members agreed that they should cut back on the number of nonprofits that have representatives on the board. Some of those groups do not pick a representative quickly, leaving seats vacant for months. Those vacancies still count toward a quorum — so if there are 12 seats on the board, and four are vacant, seven of the remaining eight members must attend each meeting to meet the quorum requirement.
Council members also said they would be willing to appoint members themselves if agencies did not so do within a certain period of time.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said that would be preferable to abolishing the board. That could send a message that police complaints will be ignored, he said.
“We don’t want to create the impression we’re not going to take anything seriously,” he said.
Police Chief Brian Kilcullen, interviewed later, agreed.
“I think it’s still useful,” he said, adding that the board adds credibility to the department’s investigations.
“I think it speaks volumes in our intention to investigate any complaints we get,” he said.