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Albany Police Chief Hawkins' Ann Arbor interview

foto of Chief Hawkins
City of Ann Arbor, Michigan

A decision on who will be the new Ann Arbor, Michigan police chief could come on Monday. Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins was one of four finalists being vetted for the job, before declaring that he’ll be staying in Albany. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas takes a look at Hawkins’ interview with city leaders.

Ann Arbor has been without a police chief since the summer of 2022 when Michael Cox was appointed the 44th Police Commissioner of the Boston Police Department by Mayor Michelle Wu. The last round of four candidates Ann Arbor vetted over the summer failed to pass muster.

The current crop of candidates, including Hawkins, were recently interviewed in separate sessions by city councilors and Ann Arbor’s Police Oversight Commission, the equivalent of Albany's Community Police Review Board.

The four prospects were grilled on various topics including mental health, transparency, unjustified use of force and implicit bias. Hawkins, a Michigan native who took over the Albany department in 2018, told councilors that stress was the first thing he tackled when he landed in Albany, upgrading the police department's gym facilities to give officers a release valve and launching a therapy dog program to "reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace."

Hawkins was asked how the principles outlined in the 2015 "Six Pillars of 21st Century Policing" report impact his leadership approach. Hawkins says when he arrived in Albany, he focused on the "building trust and legitimacy" pillar.

"Because at the time that I joined the police department there, there was this division, there was this lack of trust, that was being repaired," said Hawkins. "But really, we needed to work on that a little bit more. So I really focused on that building trust and legitimacy component, making sure that we supported some of our community policing programs, making sure that we were in touch with a lot of the advocates in the community to make sure that we had a pulse on what was happening in our community, making sure that we did things the right way, making sure that we had trust and accountability in our department, because that is what leads to legitimacy and ultimately leads to trust in the community. But then there were there were a couple other pillars that I really focused on in Albany, and the other was technology and social media."

Asked about his approach to ensuring transparency, Hawkins says he always erred on the side of caution when dealing with sensitive cases.

“Body worn footage, if that footage can be released, then we should release that footage," said Hawkins. "There’s been cases that I've had, where our officers were involved in uses of force, where I've released body worn camera footage, within a day or two. And there's been some cases where I couldn't. But anytime that can be done, you know, it's important that we release that information, explain even if it's negative, to explain what it means, and explain what's going to happen moving forward with these investigations. People simply want to know, and be assured that when we have these high-profile incidents, that things are being handled appropriately.”

Hawkins discussed his approach to ensuring that there is a culture of accountability to the community and between officers. "Make sure we have systems in place. If there are inappropriate things that are happening within the organization that we can take the appropriate corrective action. And when we're talking accountability with our community, that's making sure that we stay connected," said Hawkins.

Hawkins lauded his department's ability to work and interact with members of the LGBTQ+ community. “We have a leading LGBTQ+ organization in our city is called In Our Own Voices, and focuses on people of color. And a very prominent organization, very prominent executive director in that organization, and that person and I are on speed dial. “

Hawkins explained whenever the group holds a function in Albany, the APD “reaches out.” “Do you want uniformed officers, you want them in plainclothes, but on the periphery, you need them at all, kind of deal, you know, if something happens here is with the police response will be just so there are no issues or no concerns or questions about it. And so I think reaching out, establishing and maintaining those relationships is key,” said Hawkins.

Talking about communication, Hawkins told the panel his experience includes working "with folks at all levels of government." He described navigating the department through changes that came when the Community Police Review Board was given subpoena power. He says he instructed his officers: “Continue doing what you're doing, continue serving, continue, you know, continue going out there and doing what needs to be done in this community. And don't worry about so much about the subpoena power right now, because your attorneys that represent your CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement), are probably initiating some legal action anyway with this. So let it play out that way,” Hawkins said.

The Ann Arbor city council recently passed the "driving equality ordinance," an effort to lower unnecessary contact between law enforcement and civilians. Hawkins was invited to share his thoughts: “We've gotten a lot of guns off the street by stopping a vehicle," Hawkins said. "And we knew that there were guns in the car. We've arrested a lot of bad actors, people who have traumatized our community over the years by using this as a tool. But what we've also done is created division, we've created harm, in a sense. And we've created this, this lack of trust, because of it. So what I would say to the officers is that we now have been given the mandate by the people, that they're uncomfortable with this sort of police action. And we know what the goal is, the goal is to help could help to continue to make our community safe. Address quality of life issues, the people who are traumatizing our community, you know, we need to get those people in a place where they cannot cause any further harm and trauma to people in our community. We still need to do that. But we just need to do it in a different way.

The Ann Arbor City Council next meets on Monday evening and could select the city's new police chief at that time. This week Hawkins announced he’ll stay in Albany. "I've been Albany police chief for five a little bit over five years now," Hawkins said. "And I'm the second-longest serving police chief in the last 43 years in the Albany Police Department. The average tenure for the police chief in Albany is somewhere around three years. And, you know, so it's been a great ride. It's been a great experience. And I love serving the folks in this community," said Hawkins. 

Hawkins was also a finalist to leave Albany for the chief position in Akron, Ohio in 2021, but withdrew.

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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