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Albany Common Councilors continue discussion of Local Law C

The Albany Common Council's Public Safety Committee met virtually Thursday evening to discuss Local Law C.
The Albany Common Council's Public Safety Committee met virtually Thursday evening to discuss Local Law C.

The Albany Common Council's Public Safety Committee met virtually Thursday evening to discuss Local Law C.

Local Law C would create an Albany civilian public safety commission, a panel of nine. Four members would be selected by Mayor Kathy Sheehan; five by the Common Council. The body would appoint a Commissioner of Public Safety and would oversee the police department, all the while providing transparent public access to its operation and stored information. The measure would require a change to the city charter, which gives the ability to appoint commissioners to the mayor. It has garnered some opposition from within city hall.

2nd Ward Councilmember Derek Johnson says Local Law C is exactly what the community needs.

"The people don't feel that the end the independence that they're looking for is going to be achieved if it's coming through the mayor's office, because this is just the continuation of what we've been dealing with, you know, the other night, you heard it was either the mayor or her chief of staff's state that the people voted for a mayor-led city," said Johnson. "And that's an old style of thinking, where it was just one person making decisions for the whole city without, you know, rebuttal from the council, you know, once again, moving forward, people are calling for change, and they're calling for independence in this change."

Police Supervisors Association President Josiah Jones says the legislation would achieve the exact opposite of its intended purpose of affording citizens a greater voice in public safety.

"Our public safety leaders are currently accountable to the mayor, Common Council, media and the public," Jones said. "By contrast, this proposal envisions removing control over these critical decisions from elected offices and placing them in the hands of a commission composed exclusively of individuals, appointed for three year terms, with no clear measures for transparency, oversight, mechanisms for removal, or even requisite skill sets or experience to unilaterally determine what's best for public safety in Albany. The only disqualifier being that they can't be a police officer, former police officer or relative a police officer. Respectfully, we asserted that this is not merely a study in public safety, as we've heard so many times, but this is a creation of two new massive departments."

Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar has funding concerns. "Until any sort of some semblance of financial analysis is done, to bring this to the floor for a vote, either on this committee or in the body as a whole, it's not ready," said Shahinfar. "It's not ready, we're not ready to do that. We should not be doing that. So now there's much more discussion that would need to be had to move this bill forward."

Jones says a substantial number of police officials are already exclusively dedicated to focusing on and addressing community concerns with both internal and external partners. He points out that the commission would require additional support staff, facilities, vehicles, fuel, electronics and IT support.

Common Council President Corey Ellis noted that there is a city budget item for a Public Safety Commissioner.

"So we're hiring somebody who's a commissioner that doesn't have a department?" Ellis said "Remember, the Public Safety Commissioner was put in the budget by the administration, not by the council. So I assume if you have a commissioner, you would put a department under that commissioner."

Center For Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green says the community supports creating the commission, and adds it should not be placed under the authority of city hall.

"The objective is to decouple community safety from policing, putting community safety squarely where it belongs, and that is in the hands of the community," Green said. "The mayor's recommendation to Corporation Counsel to establish authority for the Public Safety Commission within the city administration is a shameful misrepresentation of the diligent work of Albany's citizens on the policing reform and reinvention collaborative, and should be soundly rejected by the common council. Local Law C would establish a public safety committee whose authority lies where it most certainly belongs. And that is within the community."

Committee Chair Tom Hoey of the 15th Ward says he expects Local Law C to be discussed and debated in as many as 10 meetings, with many opportunities for public comment as it passes through committees, a council vote and the mayor before ending up on the November ballot as a referendum.

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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