a public-safety controversy broiling, everyone in Schenectady
seems to agree: The police are overwhelmed
by Chris Shields
Parkis’ plastic surgeon at Albany Medical Center told her
family it was possibly the worst case he had ever seen, says
Bill Parkis, her brother. The severe beating Eleanor Parkis
suffered at the hands of four men at the corner of Craig and
Stanley streets in Schenectady left Parkis’ fractured face
dripping, soaking her shirt in red. At the hospital, screws
were inserted into her face to hold her jaw together. Her
mouth was wired shut. Titanium plates substituted for her
cheeks, and bones that had been shattered to the point of
powder had to be vacuumed rather than pulled from her face.
going to have to put gold plates in the bottom of her eyelid
because her eyelid won’t close all the way,” said Darcee Parkis,
Bill’s wife. “If she sneezes, she has to hold her eye in because
she could sneeze her eye out.”
The corner of Craig and Stanley streets is in the heart of
Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood, an area that, especially
in recent years, has become notorious for crime and poverty.
Police crime statistics reveal that Hamilton Hill ranks among
the highest areas for crime in Schenectady across the board—robberies,
burglaries, gun violence. Hamilton Hill also has become a
hotbed for drug and gang activity. As part of an effort to
deter illegal activities, several security cameras have been
installed in Schenectady, primarily in the Hamilton Hill and
At a minimum, at least one of these cameras should have captured
footage of Eleanor Parkis’ assault and her attackers, but
because the Schenectady police did not report the incident
until Jan. 12—10 days after the attack—the footage was recorded
over as part of the seven-day loop of the cameras.
don’t live in a dream world,” Darcee Parkis says. “We know
that when you get assaulted like that, you may never find
the person who did it. Had they responded that night, they
could have maybe found the people walking the streets still.”
Even if the police hadn’t responded that night, but had followed
up in the morning or anytime within that week, the camera
footage would still have been intact, Bill Parkis says.
The couple says the best explanation that they have received
from the police department is that the incident simply slipped
through the cracks.
have cameras there,” Bill Parkis says. “You have evidence
that’s gone. Somebody obviously didn’t do their job, and because
of that, my sister didn’t get an investigation.”
The Parkises’ complaint is just one of numerous criticisms
about the Schenectady police department that have surfaced
and resurfaced during recent weeks. The complaints range from
reports of slow police response to calls for assistance to
inappropriate behavior by some officers—one officer was charged
with attacking a friend in order to keep him quiet after a
car crash, while another pleaded guilty to exposing a wiretap
investigation to the subject. There’s also the fiasco associated
with the disappearance of several bags of crack cocaine from
a police-department evidence locker, an incident that was
followed by a decision to place a sergeant, who was in charge
of the locker, on administrative leave—with pay.
incidents, especially in combination, simply aren’t sitting
well with many of Schenectady’s residents and city politicians.
paying a lot of taxes for this service,” says Vince Riggi,
a resident in the Bellevue neighborhood, “and most people
don’t feel that they’re getting their money’s worth from this
service.” In addition to the obvious impact on safety in the
city, Riggi says that ultimately policing is a quality-of-life
issue, and one that doesn’t seem to be getting the attention
Concerns about the city’s police department are nothing new
for Schenectady. On some level, the City Council has been
discussing and addressing police issues for years. More recently,
the topic has been on the agenda consistently, ever since
several residents spoke up with complaints about slow response
times and unreturned phone calls during the open-forum portion
of a council meeting last month.
While there are many residents who remain supportive of the
department and satisfied with its service, such praise has
been eclipsed by criticisms and concern. “There’s nobody in
the middle anymore,” councilmember Gary McCarthy, chairman
of the public safety committee, said when the council met
for a committee meeting on Monday (March 5). Ambivalence is
no more, he says, and instead there are either those who think
the police department is good or those who think the department
Council member Joseph Allen says this split in public perception
about the police department may have a lot to do with the
difference in service some areas of the city receive over
you call the police and it takes them every bit from an hour,
to two hours, three hours, two or three days, before they
respond, that’s a serious problem,” Allen says, “and I think
certain areas in the city get a slower response than others.
People in the GE plot or upper Union Street get their response
quicker on a regular basis, not just every now and then, but
been a slow day,” says Lieutenant Brian Kilcullen, a platoon
commander with the Schenectady police, as he walks across
the parking lot toward a department SUV. He says that the
department was expecting several vehicle-accident calls due
to the freezing rain that fell earlier in the morning of March
2, but the phones are surprisingly quiet.
In the department’s small dispatch office, four civilian dispatchers
are stationed behind U-shaped desks. Their faces are blocked
by large computer screens—one that can be used to instantly
zoom in on a specific address in the city to allow dispatchers
to better direct officers who respond to a call, and another
that displays the status of all on-duty officers, as well
as a listing of calls still waiting for response.
Kilcullen’s first call this morning is to a home on Phoenix
Avenue, where an elderly woman was found dead. Two other squad
cars already are on the scene when he arrives. Upon consulting
with other officers and finding the situation sufficiently
staffed, Kilcullen returns to the patrol vehicle as the evidence
technician arrives in a police van to photograph the scene.
a call like that, you try to spend some time, comfort the
family if you can,” Kilcullen says. “You can easily be tied
up for an hour.”
Only moments after returning to the driver’s seat, an assault-with-a-vehicle
call comes through the radio. Kilcullen radios in to dispatch
that he’s headed to the scene, in front of the Mini Mart &
Deli on Albany Street in Hamilton Hill.
As he drives, Kilcullen explains how the city is divided into
eight zones. Generally, one car patrols each zone until the
officer receives a call from dispatch. If the officer assigned
to the zone in which the call originates is busy, typically
an available officer from another zone is requested. It can
be a hard decision to make, pulling an officer from his zone
patrol, Kilcullen says, but “if we stuck to the zone concept,
calls would wait even longer.”
The scratchy voice of the dispatcher interrupts Kilcullen,
as a report comes through that the incident on Albany Street
was not accidental. Kilcullen flips on the vehicle’s lights
as the siren releases a few “woop-woop” sounds.
Two squad cars are already on the scene, as well as a fire
truck and an ambulance, which departs shortly after Kilcullen
jumps from the driver’s seat and dashes across the road. Passersby,
store owners and residents gather across the street from the
Mini Mart & Deli and in storefront windows to watch. Although
the individuals who were struck by the vehicle—which also
plowed into the front window of the Mini Mart & Deli,
spewing glass onto the cement—have already been evacuated
by ambulance, chaos remains.
A woman in the apartment above the Mini Mart stands in the
window yelling obscenities and flipping her middle finger
down at another woman, who stands beside the door of a car
parked in front of the store. A couple officers stand at the
front door that leads up to the apartments, conversing with
the individuals in the doorway.
The situation turns to disarray when a few individuals lunge
toward each other, prompting the police to physically separate
and then guide each into the backseats of waiting squad cars,
which head back to the police station.
Kilcullen agrees to drive another witness, a woman associated
with the incident although she hadn’t been involved in the
physical fighting. At least one squad car will remain on the
scene until the evidence technician can complete his work
and the store owner’s statement is secured.
can see how resources get depleted quickly,” Kilcullen says,
as the witness in the backseat repeats her disbelief at the
situation that just unfolded in front of her residence.
There’s little disagreement among all Schenectady community
constituencies that the biggest problem facing the police
department is the lack of human resources. It’s a point the
Albany Street incident illustrates well. What began as a quiet
morning has now tied up at least three cars—two that transport
individuals to the station, and the one that remains on the
scene. It’s safe to assume at least one zone, though likely
more, does not have a patrolling officer.
think there’s always going to be challenges until we make
some additional staffing changes, hiring some more people
and so forth,” Mayor Brian Stratton says.
The department currently employs about 150 officers, and it
has around 14 vacancies. It’s an example of a situation additional
dollars can’t cure, however. Police Chief Michael Geraci says
he would love to fill all of the department’s vacancies, but
his hands are tied by New York’s civil-service requirements.
To begin with, the city department is constrained by state
law, which requires persons interested in police work to first
pass a civil-service exam. The exam is offered only once a
year, in December. The results are not reported to the department
until the following March.
During a recent hiring cycle, Geraci says the department received
civil-service exam results listing 51 qualified candidates
out of the hundreds who took the exam. This pool of applicants,
however, typically depletes rapidly. By the time the department
was ready to send candidates to the six-month police academy
in July, only six candidates remained—30 initially declined
the department’s letter offering the applicant a chance to
participate in the hiring process; seven failed the agility
test; three didn’t make it through the interview portion;
two were disqualified during the background check, psychological
exam and medical exam requirement; and, in the end, three
accepted offers at other agencies.
York is antiquated in the way we do things for civil service,”
Geraci says. “We need to look at how other states have done
this, and there are plenty of other ways of doing it.”
Some states have a system comparable to a licensure program
in which individuals can obtain their credentials from a community
college so that the only remaining requirement is a significantly
shorter police academy that lasts four to six weeks.
Geraci says lobbying efforts are underway throughout the state
to modify state law with regard to the civil-service exam.
Alternatively, a partnership between the police academy and
a local community college could allow for a pre-credentialing
program that would also reduce the current restraints on quick
and effective hiring practices.
To support this twofold effort, the Schenectady City Council
voted Monday to draft resolutions stating the city’s support
for these measures.
Changes to the hiring process, even if they come quickly,
are still months and months, if not years, in the future.
Until long-term solutions can be secured, the department must
work within the hand it has been dealt, Geraci says. This
may mean creative solutions for freeing up more time and officers.
doing research on best practices from around the country,”
Geraci says. “Some of the agencies have what they call telephone-reporting
units, TRUs. You might not have to see a police officer face-to-face.”
Additionally, the ability for residents to conduct some police-related
operations online would also free up officers, who may no
longer need to respond to more minor incidents.
are plenty of agencies throughout the nation that are doing
practices like this now, for the same reason, because you’ve
got to find ways to provide good, quality service,” Geraci
says. “At the same time, you’ve got to find ways to use your
available resources the best you can.”
the top of the list of ideas receiving serious discussion
among council members and police officials is consolidating
booking with the county, a conversation that has been ongoing
between the city and the county for several years. Under a
consolidated booking system, individuals who are arrested
could be taken directly to the county jail. All the necessary
processing and paperwork could take place there, rather than
the current system, which requires Schenectady officers to
take individuals to the city’s lockup until they are arraigned
by a judge.
does that do for us?” Geraci says. “It gets those police officers
back on the street quicker, and it also takes police officers
out of the cell block area because you don’t have prisoners
to monitor.” With three to six officers staffing the city
lockup each day, the result would be an additional one to
two officers per shift. Consolidated booking, however, would
require a slight modification to state corrections law.
Riggi suggests an alternative form of cooperation between
the county and the city. “Why not let the sheriff’s department
handle the low-priority calls?” he says. “I don’t see what’s
wrong with that. I’m paying taxes to the county, I’m paying
taxes to the state, and I’m paying taxes to the city, so I
don’t care what color uniform anybody is wearing if they’re
going to come help me when I need some help.”
Jim Weaver leans forward in the back booth of the Broadway
Restaurant and Lunch in Schenectady’s Bellevue neighborhood.
Even though he’s engaged in a conversation about how police
efforts to crack down on drugs and crime in the areas of Hamilton
Hill and Mount Pleasant have pushed these activities into
his own neighborhood, Weaver’s eyes are fixed elsewhere, on
a house kitty-corner from the diner. For weeks, he’s had his
eye on the place, where he says a drug dealer inhabits the
The waitress, a woman named Lisa, approaches the booth with
a pot of coffee in hand. She and Weaver trade stories about
the house and its tenant, a man Lisa calls Filthy Phil. She
tells Weaver that she regularly witnesses Filthy Phil’s drug
waiting for a big shoot-out over there,” she says.
Weaver makes a face as if to say, “I told you so,” to anyone
who didn’t believe his word alone. “Everybody knows what’s
going on, and you mean to tell me the cops don’t know? That’s
why we get upset.”
Weaver says three police cars responded to that house only
two nights prior, but left without arresting anyone. The temporary
police presence didn’t scare any of the neighborhood’s drug
dealers, however. Hours after the squad cars departed, activity
renewed. “They are not afraid,” Weaver says.
In Bellevue, Weaver’s red Ford F-150 is well-known by neighbors
and drug dealers alike. In many ways, he’s the neighborhood’s
most consistent safety patrol. “I’ve been watching the neighborhood
for 12 years and reporting things now and then,” Weaver says,
“but just recently, I’d say from last summer until now, I’ve
really been doing a lot.” On average, he circles the neighborhood
for a few hours each day. Tonight he’s been “on duty” for
nearly three hours, in which time he’s only once spotted a
Weaver says he’s noticed the migration and increased presence
of drug activity in Bellevue for months, but especially since
the turn of the year. Since then, he’s been calling the police
to leave tips about the people and houses associated with
drug activity that he’s witnessed. “I’d tell them, would you
please just give me a courtesy call back to let me know that
you’re getting this information and that the answering machine
is not broken,” he says, but he rarely hears back.
That’s when Weaver decided to speak up at a City Council meeting
last month. Now he’s getting numerous calls from the police
chief, vice squad and the sheriff’s department.
Not all residents, however, will be as persistent as Weaver
has been, says fellow Bellevue neighborhood resident Riggi.
Over the years, Riggi has become a dumping ground for many
residents who have complaints about the city and the police
department. He says the lack of communication between the
police and tipsters is frustrating. “I understand they [the
police] can’t just rush the house and start arresting people,
but at least let the informers know, ‘We’re working on it.
It’s going to take a while to build a case.’ Let the people
know what’s going on,” he says. “If the ears of the people
you’re telling it to are closed, well, after a while you give
Geraci refers to this as the “customer service” component
of the police department, and acknowledges there’s room for
improvement. “I think we have to do a better job of lowering
the level of expectation and anxiety,” he says. “We’re working
on this internally. Some of the things we’re doing is working
with our communications staff, developing better customer-service
skills when we know that it’s extremely busy. Can we provide
information upfront to the caller, to tell them ‘this is going
to be a delayed response, it may be up to this time?’ ”
Beginning next month, Geraci says he also plans to attend
every neighborhood and business-association meeting in the
city to present attendees with the facts about where the department
is at today as well as gather feedback from residents.
It has been more than two months since Bill Parkis’ sister
was brutally beaten on the streets of Schenectady, and he’s
still left with plenty of what-if questions and without many
[the police] shown up before Jan. 9, I would have had a film,”
he repeats. “They never showed up until the 12th. I didn’t
have no film. It was gone.”
The Parkises say that living in Schenectady with an untrustworthy
police department has caused them to fear for their safety,
as well as the safety of their daughter and two young grandchildren.
police go home at night,” Bill Parkis says. “They don’t live
in Schenectady. They’re protected by somebody else. Why can’t
we be protected by somebody else?”
Currently, Schenectady police are not required to live within
the city limits, and some do reside in surrounding communities.
Riggi supports reforming residency rules so that all officers
must live in Schenectady, the benefits of which he says would
be twofold. “I think it’s only normal that somebody who lives
in the neighborhood, lives in the city, maybe they’re going
to take a little more interest in seeing that it can be the
best it can be.” Secondly, when police officers live in the
city, it also contributes to a sense of security for their
neighbors and helps to establish a more friendly relationship
between citizenry and police.
Riggi first became interested in police matters about eight
or nine years after an elderly woman in Bellevue was mugged
while walking to midnight mass. “The police did not come.
When she got to the hospital, finally the hospital called
and then the police came to get a report from the lady. It
was upsetting to think that there was no police response for
an elderly lady who was getting mugged and having her purse
The incident helped to incite public debate about the police,
he says. “There were meetings held over it, almost like the
same idea we’re having now. The same thing, and I hear the
same answers: We’re understaffed, crime is up. All these things
we hear over and over again, but they have not come up with
a solution. It’s not my job to have a solution. I’m the taxpayer.
I want our government to have a solution. I want Brian Stratton
as CEO of the city of Schenectady to come up with a solution.”
Stratton says he’s taking the issue “very, very seriously,”
and is determined to make changes.
don’t deny that there are some internal problems, and there
are things that we need to look into to make sure that we
are doing better,” he says. “If there are a few bad apples
in there, they absolutely need to go or need to be brought
into line. We need to get reforms in the police-labor contract,
which, to some extent, does tie our hands in what we’re able
The police contract expired at the end of 2006. The city and
PBA currently are renegotiating.