Hugh McQuaid Photo
Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora Schriro (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Republicans grilled state public safety chief Dora Schriro over controversy from her last post as head of New York City’s correction system during a lengthy confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Schriro took over last year as commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and must be reconfirmed by the legislature in order to continue serving during Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s second term.

House members of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee approved Schriro’s nomination Tuesday in a 7 – 3 vote, allowing her legislative approval process to continue. However, several Republicans on the committee focused on Schriro’s tenure as New York’s top correction official.

Malloy reappointed Schriro despite controversy following a U.S. Department of Justice report on violence at New York’s Rikers Island during her time as commissioner. The report detailed routine violence by staff against juvenile inmates. Schriro, according to a subsequent New York Times article, had subordinates remove damaging information from reports that were later given to federal investigators.

“This was unavoidable,” Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said more than an hour into Schriro’s hearing. “There’s a Department of Justice Report, there’s two New York Times articles that talk about the fact that admittedly, you edited a report to the Department of Justice, to the state of New York. I think it speaks to your personal character.”

Schriro acknowledged editing the report, saying she believed some of the information to be inaccurate or containing unnecessary personnel information. She generally defended her time as the city’s top correction official and said she tried to improve what was a difficult prison system. She said she had no interest in “easy jobs.”

“It is a very difficult place and it had been for quite a period of time. I was pleased to have brought a number of reforms and innovations. I believe that with additional time they would have yielded stronger and stronger results. It’s clear that things did not turn around as quickly as I would have liked, but that is not for want of effort or skill,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Sen. Rob Kane (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Kane read sections of the federal report during the hearing.

“It talks about a ‘top management that has failed to meaningfully address an organizational culture that tolerates unnecessary and excessive force,’” he said, prompting Schriro to object to the report’s characterization.

“You’re welcome to defend whatever you can, of course, but I don’t know — this is really bad. I read it last night and I was flabbergasted by it,” Kane said.

Democrats on the committee focused on Schriro’s year-long tenure in Connecticut. They credited her with improving relations with the Connecticut State Police Union and turning around a controversial effort by her predecessor to consolidate State Police dispatch centers across the state.

“I have been pleased with your leadership,” Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, said. “There’s a lot to do and you walked into the dispatch catastrophe at its height. … You personally went to these troops and met not just with hierarchy of management, but with the individual staff.”

Hartley said that effort is not complete but has already improved the agency’s morale. Kane appeared frustrated that Democrats on the committee were not interested in asking Schriro about her time in New York.

Early in the hearing, he told Schriro he wanted to “fast forward” to the end of the hearing, when the committee typically asks nominees whether anything in their background could embarrass the state. “Because I think this is it,” he said.

Rep. Cecilia Buck-Taylor, R-New Milford, asked Schriro to assess her own tenure in New York. 

“Well, certainly an ‘A’ for effort. As for the rest,” Schriro said, pausing, “I’ll let the record speak for itself.”