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Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox: A Look Back

Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

A nationwide search is being conducted for a new chief to lead the Albany Police department. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas takes a look back at the short tenure of Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox, who is being honored this hour as he leaves the job.

Supports say Cox, in his less than two-year stint as chief, completed the mission begun by his predecessor Steve Krokoff: a change of the police-community dynamic. That entailed transforming a department once feared into one where citizens could interact with officers, hold "community conversations" and enjoy neighborhood barbecues — even equipping officers with individual business cards so they can better identify themselves.

Cox started his career with the Albany Police Department in February 1994, ascending through the ranks over time, eventually named the city's acting chief when Krokoff abruptly left the force in April 2015 to take a job in the Atlanta suburbs. Cox cheered his comrade on. "We're thrilled for him. We're sad to see him leave. He has been a great, exceptional leader. He has brought this department to a place where we are set up for success. I think he's leaving us in a good place, we have to make sure we continue to go down that road for success."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan called on then-Deputy Chief Cox to serve as acting chief while a search for a new head was conducted. When all was said and done, Cox was handed the position permanently.

It's been a dramatic shift for New York’s capital city.

Under his watch, Albany became the third city in the United States, and first in the Northeast, to adopt the LEAD program, it's goal to reduce low-level arrests, recidivism, and racial disparities. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.

A series of community conversations on "implicit bias" were held throughout Albany. "Implicit bias is something everybody has, it's something that if we recognize we have it and we figure out ways to make sure it’s something that does not come into our decision-making we can make things better. And it's really important to us, especially with the community-policing model,  that  we also work with the community on the same issues. So not only is it the police department is getting trained, but that we also work with our community so they understand their biases, 'cause we certainly at times wind up being put in a place where we're getting a call or something's going on and there's more to it than that's apparent, so, we really wanna work with the community, to help train them, the same way we train ourselves, on truly being better citizens."

Cox was in command when the city installed red light cameras at critical intersections. "We're making the city safer by not only having this system, but by using it the right way. And one of the reasons why we're doing that is because of the community input."

Responding to national events involving police, as well as criticism the department faced following an incident that resulted in the April 2015 tasing death of Dontay Ivy, Cox announced Albany would test body cameras on its officers.  20 officers are outfitted with the new technology, testing cams four different vendors to find which will best meet the needs of the police department and the community.

Deputy Chief Robert Sears has been appointed acting chief and has overseen the program.   "We're trying to marry up the best product with our policies and make adjustments when appropriate."

In June, local African American clergy, the NAACP, and some Albany city officials celebrated what they called an improving relationship with the police on the steps of Albany City Hall. Pastor McKinley Johnson with the Greater St. Johns Church lauded the police department.   "For improving training, and it's already started, surrounding the issues of police legitimacy, and building community trust."

In mid-December, things came full-circle for Cox: he announced he was stepping down to take a job with the National Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. "This was one of those jobs that I could not turn down. To be able to be involved on a national level of changing the way that we address issues such as addiction, mental illness and poverty, and how we stop treating those as crimes, and how do we deal with the root cause of those issues and stop putting people in jail for those and deal with the fact that we have mass incarceration and we can do away with that."

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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