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Schenectady names Chaires first African-American police chief

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by Walt McClure, FOX 23

History in Schenectady – an African-American man takes the helm of the city’s police department for the first time, following a path paved by his father.

Mark Chaires is the city’s 16th police chief, but the first minority with the job of leading the department.

Chaires has a history of nearly 20 years with the department, first as a rank and file member and most recently as an assistant chief.

That history was made possible by his late father, who was the department’s first African-American officer, but the younger Chaires says that history is less important to him than making the department what he believes it can be.

“I, Mark R. Chaires, do solemnly swear…”

With those words, Schenectady police officer Mark Chaires becomes Schenectady Police Chief Mark Chaires.

It is the culmination of a 19-year career, and the culmination of a pioneering effort begun when his late father Arthur became the city’s first African-American cop in 1952.

However, Chaires says it is responsibility, not history, foremost in his mind.

Chief Mark Chaires/Schenectady Police Department: “The historic nature of this event is being put on the back burner. What’s hitting my in the face is the things that usually hit a chief. Hey, we’ve got a budget due in a couple of months. Weeks. Weeks.”

Chaires has been an assistant chief since 2001 — at a time when the department has dealt with criminal allegations or convictions against nearly a dozen of its members.

He says there is a talented workforce behind him and he wants to give them the tools to be even better.

Chief Mark Chaires: “The very first message I want to tell the citizens of this city about their police department is that we have the personnel, the most important raw material to build an outstanding police department. We have the makings of an outstanding police department. Trust me.”

His new bosses and his mother say Chaires was the best choice of seven applicants to move the department forward.

Dorothy Chaires/Mother: “I’ve always had confidence and I knew he would do what…and he is an honest person.”

Wayne Bennett/Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner: “You’ve got somebody who grew up in this city. He not only knows everybody in the police department, he knows the issues of the police department. He knows the issues out there in the public.”

The public, in the person of the head of one of the city’s neighborhood associations, says it is willing to give him a chance.

Fred Lee/New Independent Hamilton Hill Association: “The chief should be someone who knows the nuances of the neighborhoods, and I think since he grew up in the community, I think that will be helpful.”

Lieutenant Bob Hamilton, head of Schenectady’s police union, is out of town but told FOX23 News that he has a long-standing work relationship with Chief Chaires and is confident that he is qualified for the job and that they will be able to work together to make the significant improvements the department needs.

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Written by Symphony

September 21, 2008 at 12:14 am

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