Under a new program, the Albany Police Department will host regular discussions on police-community relations with city residents.
The “Time to Talk – Community and Cops Collaborating” program, or “T3C3,” sets aside time each month for officers and residents to privately discuss issues like systemic racism and gun violence. Police Chief Eric Hawkins expressed his excitement for the effort Tuesday, noting that, this time around, residents will meet directly with patrol officers in their neighborhoods.
“Typically when we have these sorts of community-policing programs, we have either chiefs or command officers, or beat officers, or community-policing officers who are involved," he adds. "Well, what we heard from our community is that they want to hear from other officers in a non-threatening, non-confrontational environment.”
As in localities coast to coast, it’s been a tough year for police-community relations in Albany. After a summer of protests and riots against racial injustice, Hawkins moved to fire an Albany police officer in November for making a number of racist comments while on duty. An outside auditor is presenting its final report on racial bias in the department, with preliminary findings depicting a “statistical difference” in arrest outcomes based on skin color. All of this is happening during one of Albany’s most violent years on record, with more than 100 shootings in the city to date.
T3C3 creator April Purcell-Bacon, an Albany resident, says she came up with the program during a meeting with Chief Hawkins earlier this year. Before that, she says she overheard a conversation between a group of officers nearby – and found herself surprised.
“Everything they said is exactly how I felt, how all my friends have felt," she notes. "And what I realized is I was lucky enough to know that these officers weren’t against us – it’s not an ‘us against them.’”
Purcell-Bacon says both sides of the police reform debate have been painted with a broad brush, particularly by the media and local representatives. The goal of T3C3, in turn, is to communicate individual perspectives across the divide. Purcell-Bacon says meetings will be kept small intentionally, to promote an open dialogue. Reporters will not be allowed, and those who wish to attend must first email Purcell-Bacon at T3C3Albany@gmail.com.
Chief Hawkins says the talks are independent from Albany’s Reform And Reinvention Collaborative, whose state-mandated report on reforming police in the city is due in April. But Lieutenant Joseph McDade says they could go a long way with addressing concerns on a personal level.
“We realize that, if we want to know what policing looks like in certain neighborhoods, the cops and community actually have to have conversations together," he explains. "So we know what they want, and they know what we need from them as well.”
Purcell-Bacon says she and the department have successfully operated a pilot version of the program since September. She admits many of the conversations won’t be easy, noting no productive conversation on race ever is, but she hopes they’ll allow both sides to see each other better.
“Are we going to get resistance? Absolutely, I’m banking on it," says Purcell-Bacon. "But the idea is if we can get enough people to understand [that], if we don’t want Albany to look like it did this year, we all have to make changes. Everybody, it’s not a, once again, ‘us and them.' And hopefully we’re able to bring information back to the department or back into the community that can help change, and just foster a better relationship.”
Upcoming conversations and topics will be posted on Facebook, with subjects tackled on a first-come, first-serve basis.