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Mayor, Police Chief Respond To Racial Bias Audit On Albany Police Department

Dave Lucas

A preliminary audit on racial bias in the Albany Police Department finds differences in the outcome of arrests based on a person’s skin color are fueling community concerns.

The audit was conducted by the Arlington, Virginia-based consulting firm CNA as ordered by Albany's chief city auditor Dorcey Applyrs. It also says the Albany Police Department’s use of force policy should be updated to be clearer for officers to know when they can use various forms of force.

CNA's Zoë Thorkildsen is audit team Project Director.

"Albany was definitely very interested in us analyzing a variety of police community interactions, so that would include everything from traffic stops, and field interviews, as well as arrests and use of force incidents. So really, the topics in the report reflect that and amalgamation of what the city of Albany had already pre identified as priorities, and then other priority areas that myself and the audit team identified as we were proceeding through the data collection and analysis process."

The audit says there is a need for better data collection regarding traffic stops and a clarification of the APD's “use of force” policy for officers.

" I think it was a well written and well researched report. But it just wasn't in context."

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says the report is comprised of raw data and raw information that shows that there are some disparities along racial lines with certain activities.

"We need to find out where these incidents are occurring. What are the what is the cost is called the service levels. And some of these areas where we have in contact with individuals, where our resources being dedicated, you know, it's very well known that we've had a particularly violent summer. And we know anecdotally that that violence has occurred in certain areas in the city. So it's just natural that we will have a lot of resources, a lot of staffing, a lot of officers doing a lot of work in some of these areas. Does that impact some of the racial disparity information that we received in this report?"

The audit determined that Black residents account for about 65 percent of both arrests and traffic stops that ended in arrests.

Dr. Alice Green runs the Center for Law and Justice in Albany. She says that finding confirms other suspicions and studies conducted by the Center, which she says have been ignored by the city.

"The important thing is that the city has to recognize that there is a problem, and that it will have to work with the community to resolve many of these issues."

Green says the Albany Police Department needs to acknowledge that there is a problem with systemic racism.

"We really have to be talking about how we're going to reinvent the police department and, and public safety. And so we've been asking them to look at issues like trust, what will they do to further trust between the department? What will they do to dismantle this systemic racism that we all see, how will they work with the community to address these issues? "

Hawkins says the next few months will be critical in bringing more context to the report.

"We’ll have a better idea of what this information means we'll start looking at where our points of contacts were, with our officers and members of this community, what types of activities you know, what, where's the violence and the cost for service coming from in our community, and they get an idea of why our officers are there and what they're doing."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan issued a statement which says in part “As we engage in the City of Albany’s Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, information from this audit will greatly assist our efforts. This audit identifies a number of ways we can improve the collection and dissemination of data to ensure more effective, transparent, and unbiased community policing strategies."

Under a statewide mandate from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Albany is among the communities that has appointed a committee to reform its police department.

Applyrs emphasizes that the audit is a preliminary report, lacking community input. She notes the public has until November 13th, to look at the report and submit comments directly to CNA via email smartjustice@cna.org. Applyrs says no city officials will have access to those responses, and there will be a series of presentations that will take place once the final report is released.

"The comments go directly to CNA enabled, then compile all of the public comments, embed the comments into the report, and release a final report. And so once the community's voice is highlighted in this report, it becomes a final report. "

Some activists aren't content with the audit, the collaborative, or the way the city conveys information regarding its handling of police-community issues. Demanding more transparency and accessibility, VOCAL-NY is rallying tonight at 5:30 in front of St. Joseph's Park in Ten Broeck Triangle. Luke Grandis is an organizer with the group.

"It's for folks to come out and share their recommendations, demands and feelings about the need for necessary police reforms from Albany Police Department, and to make sure that the Albany Police Reinvention collaborative is being held accountable and is including true community inclusion, and not just claiming it."

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