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Albany Collaborative Holds First Meeting

Participants in Albany's first meeting of the Collaborative
Participants in Albany's first meeting of the Collaborative

The City of Albany held its first meeting last night under the Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, in accordance with a state directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo to “reimagine” police departments.

On a Zoom call streamed on Facebook, Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan made brief remarks at the beginning of the city’s first meeting of the Collaborative.

“This is not an easy task. It requires difficult and, for some, uncomfortable conversations. So tonight and next Tuesday we are going to create a shared understanding of who we are,” said Sheehan.

The Collaborative has more than three dozen members and is tasked with gathering input that will be used to compile a report on improving police-community relations, due by April 2021 at the risk of losing state funding.

The task force includes city and county officials, leaders from community organizations, business owners, and others.

City Police Chief Eric Hawkins also provided brief introductory remarks.

“On behalf of the police department I look forward to working through this collaborative effort with one of the goals to ensure that the service-delivery model of the police department is consistent with community expectation,” said Hawkins.

The bulk of the Tuesday night meeting involved Collaborative members participating in an exercise moderated by Ebow King, Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at the University at Albany, and Amberly Carter, coordinator at UAlbany’s Multicultural Resource Center.

King and Carter began by explaining the ins and outs of debate vs. discussion.

“In a debate there’s an assumption that there’s one right answer and that you have it,” said King.

“And In a dialogue you’re assuming many people have pieces of the answer, not everyone has the one correct answer,” said Carter.

“In a debate, it’s combative. Participants attempt to prove the other side wrong,” said King.

“And in a dialogue, you’re collaborative. Participants work together towards understanding,” said Carter.

Participants were split into six groups and told to come up with skits – three groups to put together a mock debate, the other three a discussion.

The topic for the exercise was not police-community relations but universal healthcare.

After about 10 minutes of preparation, it was time for the groups to perform their skits. The debates went first.

The debates were charged, with participants talking over each-other. King interjected a few times to encourage participants to use non-verbal language as they acted out their skits.

Debriefs were held after each one.

The discussions began similar to the debates at first, but also underwent a large shift in tone and the kind of language used.

King explained the purpose of the exercise and how it will relate to future community discussions by the Collaborative.

“We live in a country where the culture is very much centered on the debate very much centered on overcoming an issue that you have with another, sometimes violently. Violence doesn’t always mean with a weapon that you think of, like a gun or a knife, sometimes it’s the word that we use. So with dialogue, we want to practice using words like ‘tell me more,’” said King.

Speaking to the group, King told participants that their individual views are valuable and important.

“And if you really feel that way, then you don’t have to suppress anyone else’s view. And in fact, the community demands it. The community demands that you take this thing seriously. This might not be our only chance, but time is fickle,” said King.

Speaking Wednesday morning about the prior night’s discussion, Sheehan explained why the Collaborative meetings are starting off the way they are.

“These individuals are going to have to listen to the public. We’re going to be creating working groups. They’re going to be out there in the community and we need to ensure that we’re prepared to listen and to not get sort of firmly stuck in our positions, so that we can have that dialogue and create a document and a plan for this police department that really reflects the desires of this community,” said Sheehan.

To view the entire meeting visit Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyMayorKathySheehan/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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