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Police Training Frightens Neighbors, Goes Viral, and Stokes Ire of NAACP

What started out as a police training exercise has ignited community outrage and attracted the attention of the NAACP.

The Albany Police Department is taking some heat after pictures and complaints about what is described as a "training exercise" went viral on Facebook.

The power of social networking proved to be a force to reckon with after citizens in Albany's Arbor Hill neighborhood posted photographs of swat teams and shell casings on Facebook. Those teams stormed the Ida Yarbrough Homes, a public housing complex, Thursday morning, reportedly shooting blanks and tossing tear gas into a vacant building during a police training exercise that involved a simulated hostage rescue.

A flier being circulated by community organizers reads "We are outraged that residents were not forewarned and then were subject to arrest if they protested."

Police claim they went door to door the evening prior to the exercise to notify nearby residents.

Albany NAACP branch president Bernard Bryan says that explanation doesn't pass muster. He pointed out that in the incident happened just a few months out from the Newtown shooting,  in the neighborhood of the Arbor Hill Elementary School.

Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff did not return calls for comment. His office emailed a statement admitting the police department was "insensitive" when it conducted a training exercise that involved police firing blank ammunition and using flash grenades near occupied apartments at the complex.

The chief said the department will review how it conducts "neighborhood-based training" after the operation drew criticism from residents who said they were frightened by a chaotic scene that seemed real to them.

The Krokoff statement was released as pictures of the incident spread on Facebook. Photos depicted officers in swat gear as well as spent shell casings that were left at the scene. Training was conducted on a portion of the public housing complex that is now vacant and slated for demolition.

Quoting Chief Krokoff now from the police department email - "I certainly did not mean to offend the very people that we are training to protect. In retrospect, it was insensitive to conduct this type of training in the vicinity of occupied residences."

Several neighborhood groups and loosely-organized bands of neighbors are planning demonstrations and vigils in the coming days to protest the police action.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.