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Albany Police Reinvention And Reform Collaborative Public Comment Meetings Come To A Close

Protesters line up at Albany Police Department's South Station May 30, 2020
Jackie Orchard
Protesters line up at Albany Police Department's South Station May 30, 2020

The Albany Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative will begin working on its draft report after its public comment period ended Monday night.

The last of seven public input meetings to consider the future of policing in the city of Albany was Monday. The collaborative's goal: eliminating structural racism and bias in city policing, via public input. With state funding at risk, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed localities to finish their reform plans by April.

A Block At A Time founder Danielle Hille says Monday night's session and those that came before were specifically designed to receive public comments through the forums as well as by text messages, emails and phone calls.

"I don't know if I would say that there was really one point that stuck out except for the need to reinvent and redesign the way that policing is in the city, as a it was the general topic of most commenters. You know, there was discussion about allocation of funds, there's discussions about training, about policies about public input and interaction. Obviously, in light of what has just occurred in the nation's Capitol and the possibility of additional incidents like that occurring, there was discussion about bias, and the possible infiltration by hate groups, and what could be done in order to ensure that those were not the police officers that we had here."

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says officers have been on all of the collaborative's working groups offering input, advice, and listening to what the community had to say.

"It's very important that the officers get a chance to hear from members of the community, some of their ideas, their concerns. A lot of times their compliments about how well the Albany Police Department is engaging with the community and operating within the community. So it's working out great, I believe, and I'm looking forward to seeing what some of these recommendations are over the next couple months or so, and I think that the police department and the city will be better for it."

Hille says it’s been "a grueling couple of months for Collaborative members," who often got an earful from residents. Monday night William Donovan shared an experience he had while working at a local residential center for children. He says police were frequently called as a protocol and there was one incident involving a young girl and a police officer that particularly troubled him.

"He took this 13-year-old child and slammed her against the car and then had no problem telling me, and the staff on this child, 'You know, you are wasting my time. People are animals and they need to be controlled. And I need to be out there and not here dealing with you.' I brought this up with a couple of police officers a couple weeks later. And they sort of laughed him off and said 'oh, yeah, that guy he's an angry little man.' And I say that to say this, that I don't believe that the police are capable of policing themselves. All this talk about gathering data and, and giving recommendations I'm happy to see that work has been done. And I appreciate the people who are doing this work. But, as long as recommendations are just that, and police and the PBA have final power, I really don't believe that we're going to make much progress."

Hille says for the most part the Collaborative meetings have met expectations.

"I would have preferred a little bit more structure. The mayor's office did start us off, but then it was left up to the members, once you form into groups to get chairs, and then the chairs make some decisions based on what the members of our group wanted. So I think I would have preferred that we had an opportunity, that we had we had decided earlier on when who was in what group and when we would start doing the public comment period, so we could have gotten more information out, and also really decided on how that structure was going to be."

The Collaborative's final meeting is set for Tuesday, January 19th from 6-7:30 p.m. to present a draft final report, which will be available on the city website as of Friday. Comments will be reviewed by the Collaborative and a final report will be presented to the Albany Common Council on February 1st.

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