After learning about an incident that led to an assault charge against a city police officer through bystander video, Albany’s police chief says department policies on body cameras and having officers self-report incidents of force do not need to be changed. Officer Luke Deer has been charged with assault and two other officers have been suspended for their actions while responding to a noise complaint at a home on First Street on March 16. In all about a dozen officers responded. Chief Eric Hawkins tells WAMC Friday afternoon someone should have reported what happened through the chain of command.
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: Clearly there was some inappropriate conduct that occurred during that incident, and it wasn’t self-reported and there is an expectation -- I mean not every officer on that scene was involved in the inappropriate conduct. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the officers not only at that incident, but in any other incident that Albany police officers are involved in the overwhelming majority of the officers perform like they’re supposed to perform by respecting rights, and doing things in a lawful manner etc. But in this case there was clearly some misconduct, and someone should have reported that through the chain of command so that it could be looked into, and it did not happen.
Dave Lucas: Now does Albany’s Police Department, do we need better internal controls do you think?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: I think the controls the internal controls are there, it’s just that we have to make sure that those who are working within our system adhere to those controls, and make sure that we’re complying with rules and regulations with local and state and federal laws and all of those sorts of things. So I don’t think there’s any widespread or widespread problems internally with the police department I just think that we you know when there is some inappropriate conduct we have to make sure that people are held accountable, and that others know that there will be repercussions if there is some inappropriate conduct.
Dave Lucas: In reviewing all that’s happened do you think that you might want to or that the department might want to reevaluate its current body cam policy? Maybe force officers to keep the cameras on all the time or have somebody review the daily uploads that sort of thing?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: I think the policy is fine, because if the policy was adhered to in this case then we would have, you know would not have had an officer that turned a body camera off if at some point, and also we would have had some self-reporting of this incident as well, because you know obviously a part of any policy is that when there is inappropriate conduct that is associated with that such as, what we saw on March 16th then we should make sure that we have individuals within the organization that self-report, and comply with the policy. So I think we’re fine with the policy. We should not have a policy that forces the body camera to be on at all times, because there are some situations that require privacy in which clearly the body camera being activated would not be appropriate, but our policy is fine.
Dave Lucas: So the ten to twelve officers who were on the scene what do they do, all decide gee maybe if we keep quiet nobody will find out about this, I mean were they maybe banking on that somehow?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: Well and I don’t know right now, because at this point were still trying to figure out what the officers on the scene perceived about this whole incident, and so when I say that it should have been self-reported I say that you know from my perception in the way that I looked at these body cam videos it appears, it appears that someone should have known that there was some misconduct that was occurring, and somebody or they should have at the very least let a supervisor know that something inappropriate may have happened so it could have been looked in further, but again that’s just right now my preliminary assessment of it. We still haven’t interviewed all the officers involved, there’s still some administrative things that in terms of investigating this incident that were still working our way through, and there may be a logical explanation for, but like I said, from the way I’m looking at it right now my preliminary assessment of it is it appears to been an opportunity to self-report.
Dave Lucas: Do you feel that this has kind of tarnished the reputation of the Albany Police Department, and if so what are you doing for damage control and trying you know to right this I know you have done a lot already in being transparent?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: See anytime there is misconduct that occurs to a certain degree tarnishes the reputation of not just the Albany Police Department, but the industry as a whole, and that’s why it’s important that we in law enforcement understand that you know if something happens and we get involved in incidents that in which there are some inappropriate conduct that it reflects on the entire industry. So going forward what we’re doing is making sure that like you said we’re being transparent with our community about what happened, what we knew, what that response was, what we’re going to be doing going forward to make sure that these incidents don’t happen again, and also there is a great deal of training that needs to happen within the police department. There is a great deal of emotional trauma right now in our department I mean this has been a challenging couple of weeks, and certainly these last couple of days have been challenging and so we’ve got to make sure that we are taking care of the personnel within the police department itself letting them know that we support our officers, and our non-sworn employees. That you know while there is accountability within the department there is a great deal of support, and there is a great deal of care on the behalf of those who are in charge of a police department with our people. So, there’s are a lot of messages that are being sent right now you know there are messages being sent to the community about this, there’s messages being sent internally as well.
Dave Lucas: Now accounts have surfaced, residents of that area have spoken with media representatives, some have spoken on social media saying that that particular address that police were called to were a continuous source of disruption, and that police officers were routinely called there and encountered disrespectful, and non-compliant behavior with the residents, and you know and they’re wondering what they should do now I’m sure you have a normal department policy when it comes to responding to a noise complaint call, right? What would that be?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: Anytime that there’s a complaint like this, the normal protocols are to respond, find out if in fact there is a disturbance that’s occurring, if there is loud music that is being played that’s disturbing the neighborhood, and make sure that we address or confront whoever the occupants of a house are, and let them know the music is loud, and if necessary then issue citations for any sort of conduct. So typically that’s what the response is, but of course anytime we have any type of call for service that you know on the surface maybe a minor call, and it may not be anything that you would think could evolve into a confrontation, there’s always the possibility, so I’m mindful of that. You know even though it was what we call, “just a loud party” there’s always a possibility that it may escalate. But, our officers are trained to first of all try to make sure that the situations don’t escalate, to deescalate if possible, and of course take the appropriate use of force actions if those things are necessary. My preliminary review of this case is that this should not have escalated to a physical confrontation, and I fully understand there are some challenging bruns in call for services out there. You know there was probably frustration on the part of that some of the officers responding to that, and also I’d like to say that every single day—every single day officers are responding to these types of situations, where there has been a continuous problem, we’ve been there several times, we’ve gotten resistance, but we still we still despite those things have to respect the constitutional rights of those that we are out there serving, and in this case there appeared to be some problems with that, and again I close by saying I support our officers while they’re out there handling these very very challenging situations. We got to make sure though we don’t allow circumstances when we are out there to cause us to go over the top, and do some things that are clearly inappropriate.
Dave Lucas: You looking to change training policy after this, or perhaps refine it or use this situation this video that appeared as a teaching tool for new recruits, and for officers who go through the refreshers courses?
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: Absolutely, and we’ve already started that, and I think it is situations like these are learning tools, and we can use this to make ourselves better we can use this to kinda help some of our officers who may have some confusion about when it is appropriate to enter a residence, when it’s appropriate to use force and to what level, this could be an opportunity to do that. So absolutely, were gonna have a full assessment, a reassessment of our training. I think we’re there the training is sound here, we get some of the best training in the state, but this is an opportunity to make some adjustments that can make us even better.