Monday, March 23, 2009
Schenectady mayor considers options, martial law over police woes
Updated: 03/19/2009 06:07 AM
By: Steve Ference
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- Schenectady Police Chief Mark Chaires said, "This is unprecedented - all these officers getting in trouble at the same time for all these different reasons.
Five Schenectady police officers recently accused of everything from driving drunk to beating up a man are leading city officials to look at taking drastic action to fix a department tainted by the few who may have acted illegally, like Darren Lawrence and Michael Brown who are accused of driving while intoxicated.
Chief Chaires said, "Those two officers, we're definitely going to seek termination, and we're not ruling it out with any of the officers who are out there.
After a number of scandals have sent Schenectady officials scrambling to clean up the police department, there are now a number of options being discussed. They include disbanding the department, restarting with a new county-wide police force, or even bringing in the National Guard
. Our Steve Ference sat down with the police chief and mayor to find out more about the options - and how likely it is that something like martial law could be pursued.
Police Chief Mark Chaires told us you basically have to fire yourself - essentially a million dollar fine in lost benefits over a lifetime.
Still, Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton said, "We believe there are five officers now who could face possible termination."
But it's not just the threat of termination. Mayor Stratton told us he's looking at all options, including disbanding the police department - basically starting over.
"It's something we're certainly looking into. I think the public has had it up to here," said the mayor.
Currently, officials are reviewing the legal options and planning to present a full report in early April - options like a consolidated county-wide police force or bringing in the State Police.
The mayor said there is another option - and that would be declaring martial law.
The governor would have to declare it and then the National Guard would come in. The mayor said it's more for a transition to a new police force if that were to happen.
He said, "It may be that as a stopgap measure, that you would need military forces - State Police, National Guard."
Mayor Stratton said the temporary measure would last until the new police force took over.
Schenectady's Corporation Counsel John Van Norden said, "If you abolish the police department you still have a need - not an obligation - but a need to police the community.
You would need something in transition. Declaring martial law would be one way to bridge the gap."
"It's a contrived scenario," said the mayor. "But it's not beyond the realm of possibilities if you go that particular route."
Chief Chaires said, "When I think of martial law, I think of rioting. I think of Watts riots and things like that. I haven't seen anything that rises to that level. I was a little surprised to hear that."
But whether the National Guard needs to be called in or not, we'll take a more-in-depth look on Thursday at the county-wide and State Police options
, as officials try to deal with an unprecedented situation in unprecedented ways.