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Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy appointed a new public safety commissioner today at city hall. The appointment comes after a state court decision affirming the power of the public safety commissioner to serve as the disciplinary watchdog for the police and fire departments.
Michael Eidens was sworn in as Schenectady’s new public safety commissioner, bringing extensive judicial experience to the post. He replaces Wayne Bennett, the police superintendent and public safety commissioner since 2007 who died in August.
“The shoes of Commissioner Bennett cannot easily be filled. In fact, they cannot be filled, and it’s an understatement to say that,” Eidens said. “All of us here recognize the many fine years of service that he contributed to the city of Schenectady.”
Eidens is a former Schenectady County court judge representing Glenville and Niskayuna, and is well respected by local law enforcement, according to Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney.
“He has for the last 10 or so years made judicial decisions about police conduct with the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment. And once again, he has never disappointed us with his knowledge of the law, his wisdom and his integrity,” Carney said. “Now that the Court of Appeals decision has come down, the public safety commissioner will have the responsibility of discipline. And I believe that both sides of the police community, management, and labor side, will be well served by his tenure in this job.”
The city of Schenectady recently won a 9-year legal battle against its own police department, to determine whether the public safety commissioner should have disciplinary oversight of its officers. Allegations of misconduct plagued the Schenectady police department, and the city wanted the public safety commissioner in charge of discipline, instead of different hearing officers appointed to each case.
Eidens says that his experience will help him in this new post, which he says is now “quasi-judicial.”
“I have evaluated police testimony and police conduct in judicial hearings for approximately 30 years. Always being fair, and always being impartial. And always being firm. And as commissioner, I will continue to do just that,” Eidens said.
DA Carney remembers the many cases he brought before then-County Judge Eidens.
“I always felt and knew that he made those decisions wisely, with great judgment, with great knowledge of the law. And I hardly ever disagreed with him even when he ruled against us,” Carney said.
Mayor McCarthy, a Democrat, also appointed a new director of development, Kristin Diotte. Diotte has worked on several development projects in the area, including the Rivers Casino. McCarthy says the offices of the public safety commissioner and director of development are “interdependent.”
“The public safety component of this community really fosters the opportunity for economic development. People won’t move here, businesses won’t consider this community unless it is safe, unless it is a community of stability,” Carney said.
Eidens also has experience as a judicial hearing officer, where he helped to start the drug court and treatment program. It helps to rehabilitate nonviolent drug offenders. He says he will apply this approach to all issues facing Schenectady.
“My goal is and always has been to make our community safer. The most important freedom that we have is the freedom from fear,” Eidens said. “Sometimes it’s important that we step outside our comfort zone and develop programs and procedures which actually solve problems.”
Eidens’ salary will be $94,000, and Diotte’s will be $70,000.