Guilderland Chief McNally sees police reform as ‘super positive’

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Guilderland Police Chief Daniel McNally

GUILDERLAND — Daniel McNally has had a wild ride since becoming Guilderland’s police chief in January.

State reforms for expanding criminal discovery and doing away with bail in many cases began with the new year. Then the pandemic hit, changing police roles.

And, in May, after George Floyd, a Black man, died beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, nationwide protests, including many in New York State, led Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 12 to issue an executive order requiring police departments across the state to reform and reinvent themselves.

Guilderland has now appointed a committee of 14 to work on that task and plans to have its first meeting in September. Last week, Cuomo said that police reform plans, created with public input, must be completed by April to maintain state funding.

Citing Executive Order No. 203, McNally said, “The comprehensive review is to develop a plan, which talks about police department strategies, policies, procedures, and practices.”

McNally believes that Guilderland is ahead of the curve in many ways because, since 2009, the department has been accredited through the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, meeting the 109 standards set out by the state.

“We adhere to the policies set forth by the state that are changing all of the time and we keep up with that. A specific topic would be use of force. As recent as within the year, we changed our use-of-force policy to adhere to those state standards,” said McNally.

He went on about the review of department policies, “I see this all as super positive. De-escalation we’ve done for decades here. We have less lethal options,” he said, explaining that Guilderland Police have used tasers and pepper spray “so you don’t have to use lethal force of a firearm or a baton where you cause injury.”

He also said, “We don’t do strangulation holds …. The buzzwords that you’re hearing nationwide right now, that’s not what we do.”

McNally, Guilderland’s fourth chief, said, “We’ve had great leadership in this department for a long time.”

Another buzzword that’s often misunderstood is “defunding police.” “When you really look at it,” said McNally, “it’s not that concerning to most unless you’re thinking about a whole police department being defunded.”

He continued, “Our funding is based on following procedures and guidelines set forth by the state.” McNally gave an example, “Our Stop-DWI money is based on how we provide resistance against DWI so I get that.”

He went on about reallocation of resources, which is what the buzzword “defunding police” often means, “When you talk about social workers providing a lot of the services that police are providing, I don’t know how that’s going to work … That is going to be a lot of money. We do a lot of services that are not police at the end of the day.

“Who do you call at three in the morning when you need help with your son who’s being disruptive or whatever?” asked McNally.

Police frequently have to deal with mental-health issues, he said, which can be problematic especially after hours. “We’ll routinely ask for help from mobile crisis,” he said of a county unit designed to help with mental-health emergencies, “and there’s nobody available so we’re left dealing with those individuals and taking them to the hospital.”

McNally went on, “So, again, I’m very eager to look at all of this and make the changes that we need. I think it’s a great opportunity for the criminal justice field at this time. Some of the biggest changes in 50 years are hitting right now.

“I think it’s awesome when you can look at training and make that better and maybe fund training a little bit better. We’re fortunate here where we train very heavily.”

McNally is also proud of Guilderland’s open complaint procedure. “We’re one of the few departments where, if you call in to complain about an officer or how a case was handled, without you having to come in and formally put your name down and go on paper, we hear that and look into that,” he said.

Also, the department conducts quality-assurance surveys that go out to the public randomly on different types of calls to see how the officers are handling those. “They come back very positive,” said McNally and the rare negative responses are looked into. Sometimes, a response leads to an officer getting a commendation.

McNally went on about the governor’s directive, “The next part is addressing the needs of the community. That’s where you start to make the distinction between Guilderland and, say, the city of Albany as to what those services really are — is it mental health, is it housing, is it a homeless situation, is it food? … 

“The whole key to this is to get community involvement so that we foster that trust and fairness that I think we’re losing right now nationwide. It just opens up that dialogue so we’re all kind of on the same page, solving our problems together.

“And then we will address any racial bias that relates to us here when it comes to policing. Maybe an African-American family in the community doesn’t feel comfortable calling the police. We’ll find that out,” he said, perhaps by surveying the community.

Guilderland — population, 35,723 — is about 82.3 percent white, 3.3 percent African-American, 3.7 percent Hispanic, and 9.1 percent Asian, according to the United States Census Bureau. Also 10.8 percent of Guilderland residents are foreign born.

Currently, Guilderland has 40 officers; none are people of color. McNally said he “absolutely” thinks the police department should reflect the diversity of the community.

“We have looked heavily into that,” he said. “The last round of hiring we did, we interviewed over 20 people and it was open and I personally have tried to recruit officers of color to our department and we have not been successful with that as of yet. We do have two females.”

Asked about the hurdles, he said, “I think right now police officers are kind of staying put because there are so many things right now changing in their world … We hire primarily lateral transfers.”

McNally, like his predecessor, Carol Lawlor, believes that Guilderland needs more officers.  “We remain short, significantly,” he said. Although Guilderland’s population is roughly 35,000, McNally said, “Our population at night is well over 100,000 with the mall, SUNY Albany, and things going on in our town with the state workers, etc., etc.”

 

George Floyd

Cuomo’s executive order is couched in the protests following the May 25 death of Floyd and cites “a long and painful history in New York State of discrimination and mistreatment of black and African-American citizens” as well as recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police.

“These needless deaths have led me to sign into law the Say Their Name Agenda which reforms aspects of policing in New York State,” the governor writes, adding, “Government has a responsibility to ensure that all of its citizens are treated equally, fairly, and justly before the law.”

Asked how Floyd’s death affected him, McNally said, “I was disturbed to see what I saw of that video. But, being in policing a number of years, I always … like to see the whole video, not just a clip because sometimes there’s a whole story there. But I wasn’t seeing anything I liked in that eight minutes of kneeling on somebody that needed medical assistance so I was disturbed.”

McNally went on about Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, “Like most law-enforcement officers and executives, he should be disciplined and criminally charged if appropriate and I think that’s the case. What disturbs me is how far we got away from that now to the protests and, you know, defund the police and all the rest of the topics that now come on top of that …

“I’m 100-percent in favor of peaceful protests. We’ve had numerous ones in our community here that have gone well. But when it starts going to looting and damaging property and people being injured, I think we’re going too far. And I think we lose a lot of the message. I think many of us want the change. We’ve been looking forward to this change.”

The changes that are underway in New York’s criminal-justice system are the largest in McNally’s 32 years with the Guilderland Police. While he favors some changes, he feels others have gone too far and were implemented too fast without adequate input from law enforcement.

“It’s always been disturbing to me that someone could sit in jail for weeks if not months because they didn’t have the money to make the bail,” he said. “So much in criminal justice needed to be changed. But I think where we’ve gone now is a little extreme. I hope it moves back towards the middle a little bit so we can continue to have dialogue to make the changes that are necessary.”

He gave an example of problems caused in Guilderland by the bail reform. “Now, with no cash bail and people being released, there’s a significant impact on domestic-violence victims because the perpetrators are being released immediately back into the public,” he said.

It’s much harder now, he said, for police to protect the victims of domestic violence. “If there’s alcohol or substance abuse, a 24-hour period might make things better. That separation kind of forces that. Now, we’ve lost that,” he said.

McNally also believes that the state’s Raise the Age legislation — which over the last two years, had 16-year-olds and then 17-year-olds treated as juveniles rather than adults in the criminal justice system — has led to violence.

“You’re seeing the violence now in our communities and a lot of it has to do with the criminal justice reform … The year prior to last they raised the age on 16- and 17-year-olds to now make them juveniles instead of the adult situation,” said McNally. “We could debate that both ways but what that’s caused is an increase in the violence in the inner cities, especially the gun violence because there’s really no ramification in the Family Court system for that behavior.”

He also said, “Taking discretion away from judges on sentencing, that has to be restored. They need to be able to use their discretion to put somebody in jail or not.”

New York had been just one of two states that treated 16-year-olds as adults.

The primary offenders in the recent spate of inner-city violence, McNally said, are ages 12 to 17, “which is what is making that so difficult to deal with and that to me is very disturbing that these are our babies, these are our kids that are involved in that kind of violence.”

McNally said that reverberations of city violence are felt in suburban Guilderland.

“We don’t live in a bubble here,” he said. “The violence and issues that are going on in Albany — that could be four miles away from our border. So to think that it can’t come out here is really naive.

“We’ve had two shootings now at Crossgates Mall that are part of these issues with the gangs in Albany and Troy going back and forth and then actually the gangs in Albany going from downtown to uptown, and again these groups of individuals are between 12 and 17 primarily.”

Gunfire was reported at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland on July 22; on Wednesday a 15-year-old male was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony, and with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a misdemeanor. (See related story.)

Four years earlier, on Nov. 12, 2016, a gun was fired in Crossgates, and Tasheem Maewhether, of Albany, was arrested. No one was injured in either incident.

A jury found Maeweather not guilty of three of four counts against him: attempted murder, attempted assault, and criminal possession of a firearm. But the jury found Maeweather guilty of the lowest charge — reckless endangerment. He was 21 when he was sentenced in June 2017 and is currently in prison.

During his trial, the prosecution said the shooting was related to gang activity.

“So it could very much affect us out here,” McNally said this week of inner-city violence. “We were very involved with many of the protests in other jurisdictions like Albany and Bethlehem as they did for us when we were getting intelligence that Crossgates Mall and Stuyvesant Plaza could be targets of the looting after some of the bigger protests.

“We are affected by this. We don’t live in a bubble. We try hard every day to make sure it doesn’t come out here and that our quality of life remains, you know, what we enjoy. This is a great place to live, work and raise our families.”

 

Committee work

McNally and Peter Barber, Guilderland’s supervisor, interviewed, either by phone or in-person, each of the candidates for the committee, McNally said. In a press release announcing the committee members, Barber said, “We were unfortunately unable to appoint all qualified persons to this committee, and hope that they will participate in the committee’s public forums.” Barber was out of his office this week and could not be reached for comment.

McNally said, “We didn’t want a huge committee that was not going to be workable.” They kept the members to 14 “so we could actually accomplish what the governor set out.”

He added, “We’ll reach out for expertise as we go forward.”

Among the experts will be Ava Ayers, a professor at The Government Law Center at Albany Law School. 

The committee will break into subcommittees to take on a variety of topics.

“We’re going to do a combination of in-person and phone-video conferences,” said McNally. “We need to meet quite regularly … April is going to be here before we know it.”

Exact dates and structure of meetings have yet to be decided. Barber feels the meetings should be as open as possible, McNally said. “We want that dialogue and that input,” he said.

In addition to McNally and Barber, long-time Guilderland Councilwoman Patricia Slavick is also on the committee.

The Enterprise asked for a thumbnail sketch of each of the other members, who may not be as familiar to the public. McNally said he was wary of slighting anyone since they all have impressive résumés.

Asked about the ethnicity of a member, based on his name, McNally said, “I wasn’t going to go to ethnicity. But we do have diversity on our committee, very much so. There’s minorities involved in this, very educated, talented people … We are culturally diverse on this committee.”

The members are:

— William Betjemann, a Guilderland resident, who retired in 2003 as deputy director of the Office of Funding and Program Assistance from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. 

“He goes all the way back to when Albany Police first formed their community policing. He has been through this before with some of the unrest that we’ve had ... back to Ferguson, and back to Rodney King;

— Jaya Conners, a Guilderland resident, and professor at Albany Law School who directs the school’s Family Violence Litigation Clinic. She has expertise in civil rights and disabilities law, said McNally and will help the committee “with the domestic-violence hole and getting services to victims”;

— Willie Dean, a Guilderland resident, whom, McNally said is “a very accomplished author and professional basketball player that for the last 15 years has been giving back to the less fortunate kids, primarily in the high-crime areas of like Schenectady. He works at Albany Medical Center”;

— Robert Fleury, who has retired as an assistant attorney general;

— Matthew Hanzlik, an Altamont resident, who is a police union representative. Union involvement is important on the committee, McNally said, “because, whenever you try to change policies, contracts are involved.” He called Hanzlik “my community head” as he is active in food drives, Coffee with a Cop, and drug-abuse education;

— Christine Rodriquez, the director of Domestic Violence Services at Equinox Inc., who will be valuable for “the mental-health and homeless part of the committee’s work,” McNally said, adding, “I’ve worked with her for 30 years” on the Albany Coalition Against Domestic Violence;

— David Rossi, an assistant district attorney for Albany County. McNally described him as “Number 2 in the DA’s office” and said, “He’s very passionate about all these changes”;

— Salvatore Russo, who is an assistant public defender, fulfills one of the mandates from the governor for the committee, McNally said;

— Gustavos Santos, who is a minority business specialist, working for the state’s Department of Transportation. McNally said he is “a private businessman” and works on Hispanic Outreach Services of Albany and is also a project manager for youth services;

— Harjup Singh, who has been a Guilderland town paramedic for “quite some time,” McNally said; and

— Matthew van Maastricht, pastor of the Altamont Reformed Church. “He really impressed me with his interest and commitment to this,” said McNally, noting, “This is going to be a fair amount of work to do to really get the product.”

He also said that religion is “a big part of our community.” “In Guilderland,” said McNally, “we don’t have the homeless issues, thank God, that the churches would be involved in … One of the recommendations of the governor’s office was to “have faith-based folks on our committee.”

More Guilderland News

  • Despite mandatory delays due to the COVID-19 outbreak, tenants have moved into the first of 11 apartment buildings at the Preserve of West Creek.

  • The now-1,200 square-foot Pakistani restaurant will be housed in the former Subway sandwich shop. The space has been under construction for some time, but now, with a permit in hand, it can open for business. Nadia Raza, Curry Patta’s owner, told The Enterprise she anticipates opening the weekend of Dec. 4.

  • Borrego Solar is seeking variances to be able to clear-cut more trees than code allows and to have its solar panels located closer to all the neighbors’ property lines than what is currently allowed by law, which was one of the reforms included in the April amendments package to the town’s solar law.

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