The City of Albany held another Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative meeting this week.
The Collaborative, which meets on Zoom and streams via Facebook, has more than three dozen members. It is tasked with gathering input that will be used to compile a report on improving police-community relations, due by April 2021 in accordance with a state directive from Governor Andrew Cuomo to “reimagine” police departments.
The group is still in its organizational stages, enduring a few growing pains. The latest gathering on Tuesday served as a conduit to find common ground while ironing out operational kinks. The panel is looking into five different categories for reform including policies and standard operating procedures, police recruitment, training and officer development, crime reeducation and restorative justice. Each category will be examined by a “working group.”
Mayor Kathy Sheehan explained the mechanics:
"So once we start the work of the working groups, you will set up your own schedules for your meetings. They may not be on a Tuesday night, they may be, you know, you may do a Saturday afternoon public meeting of some sort. So that scheduling will happen, we're going to be determining those schedules after we solidify how many working groups we're gonna have and then when we come back you're gonna do a, at the end of this meeting you're going to let us know your preferences for which working groups you wanna be on, and then those working groups will do their own public meetings and that will be accessible and open to the public."
Tuesday's participants splintered off into "breakout rooms" to brainstorm. Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins:
"Yes we'll have police representatives in all the breakout rooms for, to provide additional information, perspective, and also as we proceed in the weeks to come, um, I think Dr. Robinson talked about having more perspective from any representative, and it may be someone from community policing, implicit bias, training, whatever it may be, if we need subject matter experts to offer some perspective during these discussions in these workgroups we will provide that as well."
Zoom audio went silent during the breakout sessions. The screen displayed part of a document listing the five categories. When Zoom came back up, it was feedback time. Some panelists clarified what their individual groups planned to focus on while others suggested tweaks to assigned agendas. Sheehan rallied the troops:
"We're gonna do our best to give everyone their first choice, but given that we have a limited number of people and five working groups we need to populate, we're going to populate those working groups. We would then anticipate that those working groups would arrange a first meeting of each of the working groups. And those can be, because they’re smaller, they could be in person or via Zoom. And you can talk about that and what your preference would be. The working groups would assign a chair to you know run the meeting that would be selected from among that group and we would provide staff support. And we are mandated by executive order to have police participation in this process."
Sheehan expects each of the working groups to devise "a realistic calendar" to complete tasks.
The collaborative is expected to present its recommendations to the Albany Common Council early next year. The council will then hold a public comment session before voting on any suggested police policy changes.
Individuals from Arlington, Virginia-based consulting firm CNA, which is conducting a racial bias audit of the APD, monitored the Zoom session.