The Albany Police Department is tweaking the operations of its Neighborhood Engagement Unit. Beat zones were combined and community policing was affected as the number of beat officers was reduced. A "Team Policing" policy is emerging.
Reorganization comes at a time when police Chief Eric Hawkins acknowledges staffing has fallen below authorized levels. "We're short staffed in some areas that are presenting some pressures and some stress on our officers. You know, we've got officers that are working 30, 35 consecutive days in a row. We don't have enough officers in training. We don't have enough officers to do traffic control and traffic enforcement and traffic education. And so we had to shift some resources to some of those areas as well. We've got the new discovery laws that have imposed some extra challenges on us as well. So we had to divert some resources so that we're compliant in those areas as well. It was a redistribution that will help the entire organization operate more efficiently. And it will also, the current sections that we have, such as our beat officers and our traffic enforcement officers, is going to make those units even more impactful than they are right now."
"The Common Council was not briefed in advance when we met with the chief back in October for his budget presentation. I think was a disappointment on our part that that did not happen. It should've happened," said 6th Ward Common Councilor Richard Conti , who attended two recent community meetings held to gather public input on the realignment. "So this is, you know, the first time that I'm getting that type of first hand briefing and ability to ask questions. The attendance varies, it is those people who are most concerned or have a concern and can make it out here. It was not a huge turnout. In either case, unfortunately. You know, what people see on paper, and what I see in my area, is the number of beats zones are being reduced by expanding or merging them. So we have bigger beats zones, and the number of officers for those zones are reduced. So that's what you see on paper. And it's something that I think folks are trying to adjust to in terms of what does this mean for our area, and how does this, what does it mean for you know, as we move forward on this concept and policy of community policing."
Hawkins says he would have liked to have seen more residents at the two recent meetings. He adds there have been a number of community meetings where he shared police plans to get cops out of cars to have more direct involvement with residents. "What we saw was a need, was to have our patrol officers now more integrated with our neighborhood engagement unit. And having those patrol officers understand that part of their duties and responsibilities now, will be to get out in walk the beat every once in a while. To get out and work with our neighborhood engagement officers as they're engaging with people in the community. To go to neighborhood association meetings so that the people in the community not only get to know the neighborhood engagement officers and the beat officers, but they'll get to know also those patrol officers."
Conti is trying to understand the logistics of how new policy is going to work. "There could have been more community input and involvement in developing it and some work with the community, you know, the Albany Community Advisory Council, I will say I have a better understanding. I understand some of the concepts. I understand team policing, which is an approach that has been tried in the past and we'll see if it can work now. And there are some potential positives. It gives the chief more flexibility in deploying resources and maybe you know, dealing with you know, one of the benefits I know that we'll get our area is a change in some shifts and at night time an NEU officer will be spending some weekend time, weekend shifts which we don't have right now. That's helpful."
Hawking is set to move "Team Policing" policy to the front burner with a February 1 launch.