Corrupt cops lead NY mayor to consider 'martial law'
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Monday March 23, 2009

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A New York town's decades-long struggle with police corruption has its mayor considering potential measures most would consider drastic: disbanding the entire department and declaring "martial law."

"It may be that as a stopgap measure, that you would need military forces - State Police, National Guard," said Brian Stratton [pictured on right], mayor of Schenectady, New York.

"The governor would have to declare it and then the National Guard would come in," reported Capital News 9. "The mayor said it's more for a transition to a new police force if that were to happen."

Controversy over Schenectady's officers is nothing new.

"My father who served in this office from 1956 to 1958 was battling police corruption," said Stratton in a separate report by Capital News 9.

"Years later, the battle continues as at least five Schenectady police officers face possible termination," reported the station.

"Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett says under the law, he's not allowed to consider the opinions of Mayor Stratton but he says the mayor has given him full authority to make whatever decisions have to be made in these cases," reported Fox 23 in Albany, NY.

"The six officers who may be fired are Darren Lawrence, accused of driving drunk, crashing in Colonie, fleeing the scene and beating a friend to keep him from reporting the incident; Michael Brown [pictured at left], accused of driving drunk, hitting another car, fleeing the scene and refusing a Breathalyzer test; John Lewis, accused of DWI, threatening to kill his ex-wife and numerous other charges; Gregory Hafensteiner and Andrew Karaskiewicz, accused of beating a drunken man during an arrest; and Dwayne Johnson, accused of leaving work four hours early on numerous Tuesdays," reported the Daily Gazette.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo plans a community forum in Schenectady on Tuesday to hear a litany of complaints from residents, not all of them centered on the police abuses.

Police Chief Mark R. Chaires, appointed in Sept. 2008, was taken by surprise by the options his mayor is considering.

"When I think of martial law, I think of rioting," he told Capital News 9. "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."

Chaires pledged in Feb. to fire several of the officers involved. He specifically wondered why department supervisors failed to notice officers stealing time

In January, the head of the city's civilian complaint review board resigned and complained that his role as a lead investigator had been relegated to dropping off complaints at police headquarters.

An ineffectual review board only serves to reinforce the perception that the Schenectady Police Department is a rogue organization that operates without legitimate oversight," opined NYCLU Director Melanie Trimble.

"I'd like to go one week where we don't have a negative newspaper article about the department," said City Councilman Gary McCarthy, in a report by the Times-Union. "It's just baffling that it just keeps happening. It's human nature that people are going to make mistakes, but this just seems so institutionalized."

"In the meantime, terminating these guys — for such serious offenses as driving drunk then leaving the scene of a personal injury accident; beating up a DWI suspect while taking him to the police station; driving drunk, then assaulting a passenger and fleeing the scene; driving drunk and violating numerous orders of protection to harass your spouse; and regularly taking hours off during a shift while also collecting huge amounts of overtime — seems justified," editorialized the Daily Gazette.

"From the city’s perspective, a worst-case scenario is that the firings would cost a lot of money to defend and wouldn’t hold up. In the meantime, though, the bad apples would have to stew in their own juices, pay their own legal expenses, and be ineligible to collect overtime. No officer would be likely to find such a prospect attractive, and the specter just might keep other officers honest. Wouldn’t that be a novelty?"

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