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Common Council-Backed Referendum Would Empower Albany Police Review Board

Dave Lucas

The Albany Common Council has unanimously approved a local law that would give new powers to the city's Community Police Review Board.

Among other powers, Local Law J gives the board sovereignty to conduct independent investigations into alleged incidents of police misconduct, greater access to police audio and video recordings, 1 percent of the police department budget and subpoena power. It would also "establish a disciplinary matrix in conjunction with" Police Chief Eric Hawkins, which gives the board authority to discipline officers.

10th Ward Common Councilor Owusu Anane says Albany, like many other cities, has demanded its local police department be reformed over the past several months.

"This was action that was led by communities demand that our city's independent review board, the CPRB, have some teeth into what they're doing, you know, and we intended to make it so by providing them with subpoena powers. These reforms are designed to make it crystal clear that if police officers in the city of Albany engage in any behavior, that is not acceptable to the residents of the city, they will be held accountable."

11th Ward Councilor Alfredo Balarin says the path to Local Law J was riddled with kinks and complications that had to be worked out, and in the end, before it becomes effective, "everyone will have a say."

"The basics that I want people to understand is that it is going to be a process to be fully implemented. It's going to take other parties and other negotiations to come to come to the table and come to agreement. The first thing that I think is a positive is that if it will go to a referendum for the voters to decide."

Before that, Anane says Mayor Kathy Sheehan has to sign off or veto it.

City Hall did not respond to requests for comment in time for broadcast.

Anane notes the council can override any veto.

"Don't listen to the rhetoric that the common council don't support law enforcement, we do support law enforcement. But in this time period, we have to listen to the will of the people in our city. They are calling that our police department be reformed. And that is exactly what we're going to do."

But some police department members may have other ideas. A post on the Albany Police Officers Union Facebook page says, "We are deeply disturbed by the common councils passage of local law J and in doing so their willingness to violate the contracts that are in place and the collective bargaining process." Union president Greg McGee did not respond to a request for comment.

Anane reacted:

"Quite frankly, I feel like this type of rhetoric, further divides our city, when it comes to police and community relations. This is a time for all of us to come together, pass these reforms and move forward and continue to build on uniting our city.”

Local Law J (as Amended 02112020) on Scribd

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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