Steven Heider was a town police officer for more than 40 years and was chief for a dozen before retiring in 2015. He currently serves on the town’s Planning Board, arguably one of the most difficult positions in town government. He previously served on the Village of Colonie Planning Board and was also appointed to the Albany International Airport Authority Board of Directors. He is also on the Colonie Youth Center’s Board of Directors and the Scauitub Insurance Agency in Scotia and is a small business owner. The lifelong Colonie resident and his wife, Laurie, have a son, Greg, who just retired as an investigator with the Colonie Police Department and a daughter, Brittany, a marketing manager at Rivers Casino.
Q: As a member of the Planning Board, what is the trick to accommodating the differing interests of the parties involved — namely the developers and the existing neighborhoods?
A: When someone tells you the trick to accommodate all the interests involved please let us know. But if there is one, then “listening” is at the top of the list of possibilities. Sometimes we hit it early on in the process and with others it takes what seems like forever to come to that point. We recently had a development approved that began as the most contentious as any I had seen and finished with the neighbors thanking the developers for all that they had done to make them happy. In the end the trick has always been to let people, neighbors, residents, and applicants , freely express, and they inevitably will let you know what will make them happy. It is up to the board to listen and discern and then try to turn everything into a response that also satisfies the town’s needs to make it all work for everyone. It isn’t much different than in police work where negotiation and give and take is often the ultimate trick.
Q: Development is an issue not just in Colonie but in all suburban towns around the state. In Colonie, do you think there is too much development, not enough, the right amount and why?
A: You can’t say there is not enough unless you haven’t left your house in the last 50 years or so. From the early times that I can remember as I watched the Colonie Country Club become Colonie Center and Wolf Road become four lanes there has been a steady rise in commercial and residential growth throughout the town. Now we are seeing re-development of commercial space which actually brightens the landscape and we make every effort to control the size of residential density and the preservation of open space. I think the town has done an excellent job trying to provide for recreation opportunities in the myriad of parks, ballfields of various sports, a golf course and of course the bike path which I believe we were one of the first to develop in the area in the early 70s. And all this doesn’t even include what the Villages of Colonie and Menands have done to create wonderful recreational experiences in their communities. So yes, I would like to think we are the “right amount” at this point with the proper mix of development occurring.
Q: You were a police officer for more than four decades, what do you think of the calls to “defund the police” and the politicians requiring departments to “reorganize?” Do you think the way we police our community needs to change?
A: It is never wrong to look at an organizational system and make sure it is working properly and to address things that may not be. Policing is no different and although nearly 900,000 police officers put their uniforms on every day to protect our populations, it is apparent that within those ranks some chilling events have taken place that to many people, warrant this effort to reorganize and “Defund the Police.” All police agencies need to look at themselves to be absolutely positive that their mission and their actions rise above what we all have seen throughout history that disturbs any normal human being. In the bigger picture, the problems that are being brought to the surface due to these incidents are also part of much broader societal problems that will not be solved by “Defunding the Police.” Always keep in mind, there are 331 million Americans who initiate literally millions of police calls a year and less than 1 million men and women who are sworn to protect each and every one of us. I think most agencies will welcome the evaluation process being requested and will become better because of it. To those agencies that resist this evaluation the level of change is the probably most necessary.
Q: Who or what inspired you to be a police officer?
A: My parents wanted to know that too. If you could ask them they would probably say that I would end up on the other side of the law. But don’t tell my grandchildren that. To the day he passed away, my one grandfather told everyone he knew I was in hotel management. I was drawn to it at the end of high school, went to Hudson Valley Community College for criminal justice and started as a police dispatcher just after turning 19, and becoming a patrolman one year later. A lot of Civil Service luck and taking tests at the right time served me well. Went on and got my bachelor’s degree from Russell Sage and the rest is history.
Q: After serving the town for 40-plus years, why did you join the Planning Board? And name three people you would like to have lunch with.
A: I love being involved in the town and I think planning is just one of the most interesting aspects of local government. From the time in the early 70s when I watched my father organize an effort to oppose the “Super Block” which is now the Crossings and neighborhoods adjacent I had an interest in development. I would like to think that much of my success as a police chief was due to me having a very in-depth knowledge of the community from many insights, not just through criminal justice. During the 90s I Initially advised the Village of Colonie Planning Commission on traffic related matters and then became a full member. It was that experience working with now Mayor Tom Tobin, still Chairman Chris Dennis and others on the commission that instilled a desire on my part to further this experience whenever possible. When an opening occurred I quickly applied.
Lt. Bill Lockart and Investigator Ed Frank Jr., both of whom passed away mid-career. Both excellent police officers and two of the funniest people you could ever know. And unfortunately two that we can’t have lunch with again. And US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger because I am an aviation fanatic.
If you know someone you would like to see featured in Five Questions contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]