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Albany Common Council Discusses Policing Reforms Amid Summer Of Protest

Protesters swarm a June 4 Albany Common Council press conference outside City Hall.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Protesters swarm a June 4 Albany Common Council press conference outside City Hall.

The Albany Common Council is moving ahead with police reform proposals.
The George Floyd killing and the rash of national social unrest it ignited let to protests and some violence in Albany in early June. In the days that followed local businesses boarded up their storefronts, just in case there were more protests.

When it seemed that things were calming down, video footage surfaced of an arrest of a young couple in the city's South End. The recording showed events leading up a confrontation where police allegedly injured a woman's arm. The incident was condemned by the mayor and police chief. The event inspired a peaceful march through the city, co-organized by Lukee Forbes of Albany, who told WAMC:

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Lukee Forbes

"The video that circulating showed where individual and his girlfriend were kidnapped by the police unjustifiably, where this man tried multiple problem-solving steps to deescalate the situation. When you watch there’s no officer intervenes and tries to deescalate the situation that was already under control."

The charges against the couple were dropped. Albany Police Department spokesman Steve Smith says the incident remains under investigation.

Common Council President Corey Ellis says at least one officer involved is on desk duty for the time being.

"Police officers have a tough job. It's stressful, and sometimes you have to act at a moment's notice, but what we're seeing is, they're not thinking."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan criticized the police actions, and charges were dropped against those arrested. Common Councilors held a press conference outside city hall announcing a police reform package. Ellis tells WAMC legislators knew there were policy changes needed and now is the time to that.

"I think what's happening around the country, is trying to change people's hearts and get people to see everyone as people. Unfortunately when these incidents happen it continues to show that some people, their hearts not changed yet, they don't know how to deal with people in those tough situations and that's where, when we talk about training, training can't change a person's heart. We hope that the country showing solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement will begin to get some people to think differently about how they view their fellow man, because this is what it's about. It's about seeing everyone as you would see your brother or your sister."

Credit Periscope @davelucas
Corey Ellis

Ellis says a package of proposed reforms introduced at Monday night's virtual meeting include asking for subpoena powers for the Albany Community Police Review Board and body cameras for all city police officers. Ellis says the current councilors have been outspoken in standing up for their constituents.

"For centuries here in the city of Albany, the common council has continued to try to evolve, and this council sees itself as an equal branch of government. And so this council is a legislative body and they're not going to wait to legislate based off of what the mayor says or what the mayor does. Every council member takes thier job seriously and a lot of people don't see the work that is being done, a lot of people don't understand it, a lot of functions of the council, but I can tell you this, this council is definitely a council that sees itself as a co-equal branch of government and at times will exercise that. It's not like people say 'Oh we are against the mayor,' no they're not against the mayor. They're doing their job as an equal branch of government. It's called the system of checks and balance. And at times, the legislative branch, the city council, will have to check the executive branch. That's not personal. That's good government."

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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