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Albany Police face renewed criticism after report confirms policy was broken in badge-covering last year

 Confrontation outside South Station April 22, 2021
Lucas Willard
Confrontation outside South Station April 22, 2021

Albany Police are facing a new round of criticism after the Times Union newspaper obtained an internal report showing the department broke policy last year when several officers covered their badges during a tense demonstration.

On April 22nd, 2021, following a “warning” tweeted out by Chief Eric Hawkins, the Albany Police Department broke up a six-day protest outside of South Station.

Civil rights leaders said the clash — where some police officers were seen covering their badge numbers after giving protestors 15 minutes to vacate — eroded trust. Officers were said to be concerned after personal information about one of their colleagues was posted on social media. Hawkins addressed the incident a week later during a virtual Common Council meeting.

“We are 100 percent certain that we will be able to identify the officers involved with or without badge numbers," said Hawkins. "And the officers are all aware of that.”

A 10-month internal police investigation culminated in a 48-page report published by the newspaper Friday, with APD admitting that "policy with respect to badges was clearly violated." The Times Union reports Hawkins blamed the incident on "a miscommunication by a now-retired commander" as part of the internal report.

Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green is calling for more transparency.

“I should point out that I was there, at the time, the police officers covered their badges, and also had removed the demonstrators from their encampment," said Green. "So, so it was of concern to me, mainly because I was personally involved with it. But I think when I saw the, the chief's response to all of this, I couldn't help thinking that the citizens of Albany should be insulted.”

The report says “the orders were simply unclear and no name tags and or badges were covered with any malicious intent.” It also says “APD does not have uniformity in their uniforms,” referring to an outer vest carrier on which name and badge number appear as one unit, suggesting differences in uniform components may also have been a factor in what ended up being covered and what was not.

Green says Hawkins should have shown more leadership.

“I also see that there's a problem of transparency," Green said. "You know, why did it take almost a year to do the investigation, and two months to release the finished report? And we still don't know anything about why the officer who was blamed for giving out confusing information is no longer on the force. I mean, did he retire on his own? Or was he forced to retire? It's important to know because we know that a number of top level officers have left the department over the past two years. And leadership reportedly is often given as the cause.”

Green says Hawkins owes residents of Albany "a better explanation" and she'd like to see Mayor Kathy Sheehan respond to the report.

Speaking to WAMC last May, Sheehan expressed strong concerns about officers who covered their badge numbers.

“And that was something that I immediately spoke to the chief and actually put in writing, the expectations that I have and that our residents have with that being investigated," Sheehan said. "And the chief has given me his commitment that there will be disciplinary action taken against any officer who engaged in that.”

One month prior, the Center for Law and Justice said it was unlikely any officer would be disciplined.

In the summary section of APD's final report, Hawkins reaffirms “Officers were confused as to what was allowed and what was not. There was no nefarious intent involved.”

Mayor Sheehan responded to a request for comment by email, stating "I thank the Office of Professional Standards for their detailed investigation.

Coupled with Chief Hawkins' Executive Summary, I am satisfied with the results of this report and believe these findings make it clear there should be no violation of the badge policy in the future."

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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