DELMAR — Bethlehem town board members started interviewing candidates for its vacant police chief position hours before several residents demanded they too have a say.
The Board conducted the first of three interviews on Wednesday morning. Board members are expected to vet the candidates and present their thoughts to Town Supervisor David VanLuven. VanLuven will appoint the town’s newest police chief in 17 years before the board officially approves the selection.
The town is selecting from a list of candidates based on their standings on the current Albany County civil service list. Once the process concludes, either Cmdr. Adam Hornick, Detective Sgt. Gina Cocchiara or Sgt. Jim Rexford will be the town’s next police chief.
Town board members sat and listened to residents who called into its monthly meeting Wednesday, Aug. 12, expressing concerns for transparency in the selection process. Some shared their wishes to see the board choose a more progressive person for the helm. The first speaker set the tone for the evening.
“I truly believe that when it comes to hiring a new police chief, and police reform within our town, that it needs to be transparent. I feel community members should be able to at least sit in on interviews if not being able to ask questions directly,” said Jennifer Cardamore.
Residents’ concerns were shared during the meeting’s public comment section. The section allows attendees to speak to the board without debate. Board members do not comment, nor do they answer direct questions. VanLuven, however, later shared how he and board members have listened to residents through email, social media, conversations and demonstrations. He also shared that the town has met with two police chiefs and a local law enforcement professional from different communities to gain insight into department cultures and community relations.
“We have integrated the insights and recommendations from these interactions into a suite of interview questions that drill into issues of racism, Black Lives Matter, guardian vs. warrior culture, implicit bias, de-escalation, department structure, overtime, budgets, community trust, and more,” VanLuven stated in a social media post on Friday.
When Louis Corsi retired from his police chief position in late July, it was the second exodus from the department’s command team in as many weeks. Deputy Chief Thomas M. Heffernan, Jr. worked his last day a week before. The absence of both Corsi and Heffernan from the department represents nearly 70 years of collective service experience. Hornick, the last remaining officer on the three-man command team, is ranking member in charge until the town selects a new chief.
Corsi served a 10-day suspension in 2009 for his use of a racial slur during a January 2006 phone conversation. Residents referenced the 2006 incident on Wednesday as proof of racial bias within the police department.
“Our goal is to hire a new chief as soon as possible who can advance positive police reform, build community trust, and ensure all residents and visitors are safe and feel safe,” VanLuven said, adding that new chief will be expected to be involved in community forms, a task force and worked towards exposing racism in town. “Black Lives Matter in Bethlehem – in our government, our schools, and our community – and we are committed to achieving greater justice, equity, and fairness.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.
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