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Discipline matrix is outlined at latest Albany Community Police Review Board meeting

The Albany Community Police Review Board (CPRB) says it will start working collaboratively with Albany Police Department (APD) Chief Eric Hawkins and his team to develop and implement a clear and progressive discipline matrix, outlined in Local Law J of 2020 /Proposition 7, the legislature governing and directing Albany’s police oversight agency.
Albany Community Police Review Board
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At a special meeting February 1st, the Albany Community Police Review Board (CPRB) said it will start working collaboratively with Albany Police Department (APD) Chief Eric Hawkins and his team to develop and implement a clear and progressive discipline matrix, outlined in Local Law J of 2020 /Proposition 7, the legislature governing and directing Albany’s police oversight agency.

The Albany Community Police Review Board held a special meeting with the police chief last week to discuss developing a discipline matrix.

Tasked with closing the rift between police and community, the board’s expanded powers under a 2021 law include reviewing public comments and allegations of police officer misconduct. CPRB chair Nairobi Vives says the panel has been asked to come up with a document that clearly delineates penalty levels with ranges of sanctions, which progressively increase based on the gravity of the misconduct and the number of prior sustained complaints.

“We are kicking off our work in developing a discipline matrix with and for the Albany Police Department,” said Vives.

Vives says the matrix is intended to reduce disparities in the application of discipline and improve transparency in the disciplinary process by establishing clear expectations.

The concept was recommended in a December 2020 audit of the Albany Police Department by Virginia-based consulting firm CNA aimed at identifying and eliminating racial bias within the department’s policies and practices.

The report describes a discipline matrix as "a table outlining types of misconduct that warrant discipline, the default action to be taken for that misconduct, with noted adjustments based on the officer’s previous disciplinary incidents."

Speaking before the panel, Chief Eric Hawkins referenced the department’s current internal disciplinary process, noting the force is limited by the collective bargaining agreement it has with unions.

"The collective bargaining agreement outlines and gives us some outside constraints as to what is allowable and in how certain disciplinary processes should be handled," Hawkins said. "But most importantly, the CBA gives the officers and anybody else in the department that is subject to discipline, a right to binding arbitration. So any disciplinary process or any disciplinary matrix or process or procedure that's implemented, is subject to binding arbitration."

At the meeting, police shared copies of their collective bargaining agreements with board members. Hawkins says he's cautious but eager to employ the matrix as a tool.

“What I don't want to see is some type of process where we're trying to pigeonhole every single incident that happens, because there's nuances to every single incident," said Hawkins. "Every single incident that we see is different. Every officer or not sworn as involved in these incidents are different. The response to these incidents, to that we have will necessarily be different. In order for us to accomplish what we need to do, and again, what we're trying to do is to correct behavior.”

Fifteenth Ward Councilman Tom Hoey chairs the Albany Common Council’s Public Safety Committee.

“I'm a statewide union officer, I understand collective bargaining," said Hoey. "And I just want the public and anybody who might not know ,that when unions get involved, it's not to prove somebody's innocent, it's to make sure due process is implemented, that everybody has a right for due process. Somebody being arrested the U.S. way, the United States, we believe a person's innocent ‘til proven guilty, and it should be the same way for our public servants. And you know, that they're innocent ‘til proven guilty. “

The President of the Albany Police Supervisors Association, APD Detective Lieutenant Josiah Jones, spoke during the public comment period, expressing a measure of uneasiness about the matrix.

“Our concern with this bill is the stark lack of due process in it, which is afforded to us by our collective bargaining agreement," said Jones. "So I'm asking this committee, does it make more sense to start with the due process aspect, because just imagine any society that creates a justice system by jumping directly to mandatory minimums without thinking about the due process aspect? Imagine they just bypass the Bill of Rights and went right to sentencing guidelines. How much sense would that make?”

Vives responded, saying that unions are welcome to be a part of CPRB's working group.

"The point of this matrix is not to take away due process or to start at the end, but instead to give clear expectations for everyone that's involved, officers, and the community as well," Vives said. "So this is one piece of an entire system, if that makes sense. And also that is another thing that we will discuss in the working group. So those are your concerns. Please bring those to the table. But our mandate from Local Law J is clear. This is something that we are responsible for. And look forward to working together with everyone's ideas and input."

Vives says the panel will meet for another special session on the Discipline Matrix Wednesday, February 22nd at 6:15 at Albany Law School.

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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