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Albany Common Council President Announces New Public Safety Commission

Alice Green and Corey Ellis on the steps of Albany City Hall, May 19, 2021
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Alice Green and Corey Ellis on the steps of Albany City Hall, May 19, 2021

On the heels of a state-mandated police reform plan, elected officials and local activists introduced a new police oversight effort on the steps of Albany City Hall Wednesday.Albany Common Council President Corey Ellis and Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green are looking to move police reform forward via creation of a Public Safety Commission.

They say it augment the work of the Albany Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, whose final report was due to the state April 1st. Ellis, a Democrat, says the commission will be staffed by community members selected by the Common Council.

“That commission would be charged to oversee the collaborative recommendations and implement some of those recommendations. And to do this, we at the time, council members felt, that the collaborative was just the beginning. So this is the next step. And the reform that we're that we're looking at as a city council. This will require a law to be passed for this to happen. voted on in a referendum. We're moving. We just got word that we have to move a little quicker than we thought because we would like to get it on November’s ballot.”

Green says the commission would oversee and continue the work of the police collaborative recommendations.

“I think one of the big problems with the collaborative process that we went through recently was that the average person, the person who's most directly impacted by policing in a very negative way, were not at the table. They did not have the opportunity to weigh in. So with our vision statement, they will.”

Green says the Public Safety vision statement embraces the four pillars of procedural justice: treating people with dignity and respect, giving citizens a voice during encounters, being open and transparent in decision making, and conveying trustworthy motives. She hopes the concept will not get bogged down in red tape.

“We talk to people every day. We've been talking to them for 35 years. I don't see a need for consultant to come in. But if they come in and add something, that's fine. But I think we're also, right now, planning an educational program to go out into the community with, to educate them about this particular new structure, but also to get their input. I mean, that's the whole thing. The collaborative did not do that. OK, I know that the COVID was a problem. But we've got to go beyond that. We've got to come up with creative ways of getting in touch with people and getting their feedback.”

Ellis says Commission members, who would be paid by the city, would be able to take some of the stress and pressure off of police officers, by staffing events like Alive at 5 and the Tulip Festival, and having them answer calls about "non law-enforcement issues."

Ellis: “You have an issue where someone's called because there's, there's loud music next door. You don't want to police officer to show up. You’d like a neighborhood peace officer say ‘Hey, you know, we got a report.’ So these are the things where we can become more efficient, and we can have law enforcement officers do something else where they don't feel the strain of what we don't hear.’ Well, we were on this call and we couldn't get there because of this.’ So this is part of that, and that that structure we'd like to see this commission take on and move forward.”

Green: “And it's not that far out. Because many communities across this country are now doing that. They're looking, they have bifurcated systems, and especially in areas that you know, drugs and mental health. You don't need a law enforcement officer to be responsible for answering those kinds of calls.”

Ellis adds the commission would review and evaluate current police policies and standard operating procedures, review effectiveness of existing programs, evaluate harm reduction strategies, and restorative and procedural justice models. The commission would also ensure the elevation of concepts of community policing into practice in regard to neighborhood peacekeepers and alternative dispatch programs with specialized trained individuals other than law enforcement.

Ellis expects the full council to hold several public meetings and hearings in the weeks and months to come.

Asked about the initiative, Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s office responded via email:

“The Mayor and the Police Chief have commenced implementation of the recommendations outlined in Albany’s Policing Reform & Reinvention Plan – a plan that was developed by a group of 32 community members, including Council President Ellis, over the course of six months through 63 meetings and incorporating comments from more than 300 residents. We will continue to work with the community and the Common Council to create a public safety structure that recognizes the critical importance of meeting the needs of our residents and providing alternatives to how we respond to calls for service.”

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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