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Police Taser Policy Change; More Gun Violence In Albany

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

There’s been another fatal shooting in Albany. In the meantime, police have announced a change in taser policy.

The city stun-gun policy change comes in the aftermath of a pair of tasing incidents in Arbor Hill. April 2nd, 39-year old Dontay Ivy, a paranoid schizophrenic with heart problems, died at Albany Medical Center shortly after police tased him. The Albany County D.A. is investigating.

April 25th, 21-year-old Jamarl Townsendexperienced a seizure and collapsed after being stunned by police.

Corey Stoughton is senior supervising attorney with the NYCLU.  "We've just seen the changes this morning, and I have to say, they are a really positive step forward toward rational and sane deployment of tasers. The changes they've made bring Albany Police Department policy in line with what policing experts say should be the limit and constraints on the use of tasers.  It shouldn't take a tragedy for a department to re-evaluate their use-of-force policies and their training programs, but it's good that moving forward they'll be operating under a more sound foundation."

Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox was not available for comment. He told the Albany Times Union the change is not in response to Ivy's death and is included in a broader update to the department's policies that began two years ago.  The paper says the new policy limits officers to three five-second bursts from the weapons, which discharge 50,000 volts at a time and are intended as an alternative to other forms of force, including officers' pistols.

The tasings sharpened local awareness of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  Third Ward Common Council member Ron Bailey thinks the taser policy change is a good idea.  "Considering, you know, what's been happening in the last incidents with tasers here in Albany, and what's been goin' on across the country with them.”

Meanwhile, the city has its second gun death in a week. One man is dead and  two are on the critical list, with two possible suspects in custody, after an early morning shooting Tuesday along lower Lark Street that shut down several blocks in the vicinity of Lark and Sheridan as police searched the area. The road re-opened around 7:30 a.m.

Bailey visited the crime scene.      "We have to get to a point where we no longer blame the police and elected officials. The community needs to take a stand. When they see something happen they need to pick up the phone and make phone calls, so we get to the point where we at today with dead bodies laying in the street."

Some argue that there should be more restrictions on guns, perhaps a stricter version of the SAFE Act. Others would like to see gun buyback programs ramped up. But Bailey believes investigation is the key to gaining the upperhand in the battle against street guns.   "The only way we're gonna take control of guns is, we find out how they're gettin' in here, who's selling them and who's bringing them into the city."

Dave Lucas: "How do we do that? We'd have to have an undercover informant or something?"

Ron Bailey:  "Well, you know they have undercovers for everything else, you know. Maybe we need to sit down with ATF, FBI and all them and put a task force together, you know, and go after these guns!"

Speaking this past Saturday in Albany at a "State of Our Community Meeting,"  County Legislator Merton Simpson echoed the general feeling shared by city activists, politicians and residents.  "One of the things that I've never been able to understand is, why a community as small as ours, has so many problems, with the number of religious organizations that we have, the number of secondary educational institutions. We should be able to manage much better than we do."

This Saturday, Grannies for Peace will gather for a silent pre-Mother's Day vigil during Tulip Fest in Albany. Mabel Leon is one of the participants.  "There are inequities in our culture. There's discrimination. Unequal educational opportunities, economic suffering. We're trying to draw attention to that and to understand the pain of many grandmothers whose children have suffered from all of these things."

Grannies for Peace will be carrying banners reading  “Black Lives Matter”  and "End Racism Now!"

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.
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