It's official: Albany's new police chief is Eric Hawkins, who was confirmed Tuesday night by the Common Council.
Councilors grilled the former Southfield, Michigan Police Chief, appointed by Mayor Kathy Sheehan, for nearly two and half hours Tuesday, barraging Hawkins with questions revolving around improving police-community relations. He said he is impressed by Albany-style community policing and its approach to procedural justice, telling the council those programs must continue to evolve.
As the evening wore on, Hawkins reiterated things he said when he was introduced at city hall a few weeks ago, drawing from his 30 years experience, including morale problems within the police department, recruitment and retention of officers. He's all for increasing diversity in the department. He said he favors working with children to change their perception of what police officers are like, and believes community members should be treated with dignity and respect.
In the end, Hawkins was confirmed by a unanimous vote, with one councilor absent. Although Hawkins says he'll hit the ground running, he warned there's no quick fix concerning the city's crime wave. "I first need to meet with the command staff to see what the police department has been doing so far. I've seen from afar what's been happening. I haven't gotten into the weeds to see what the actual responses are."
Hawkins says he's willing to work with everyone, even the Guardian Angels, who have become a nuisance to the Sheehan administration this summer. He vows he'll bring competing interests together to tackle issues impacting the city. "You know getting out and actually talking with people in this community, finding out what their challenges, what their fears and what their concerns are, and mirroring those two things with what the police department is currently doing, what the concerns and fears are and seeing if we can develop a strategy."
As Hawkins gears up to be sworn in, Albany counts nine homicides so far this year. Community activist Marlon Anderson declares Hawkins “a good pick.” "We're not gonna change the violence as long as we continue down that same path which has been formed by the tradition of policing in the city. I think we need a new path and new ideas, and hopefully Chief Hawkins will be that change that we need, and hopefully engage with the public and the ideas that have been put forth to him today."
Fourth Ward Councilman and Majority Leader Kelly Kimbrough is a former police officer. He hopes Chief Hawkins' appointment and confirmation will mark a turning point for Albany. "Initially I was of the frame of mind that we didn't want an outside presence, an outside chief, you know we keep things close to the vest. But just from the experience going through the interview with Hawkins, Chief Hawkins, I think he'll do a good job."
And what of Albany's Police Union, which has been sharply critical of the status quo? "It seems like he'll certainly try. The thing is if you think of past chiefs, all have had a certain level of success, not perfect, I don't see why he'd be any different. He seems open to the idea of discussing issues and he has an emphasis on taking care of officers which is important. I mean, it isn't just about the money. The money helps but it's not just about the money. He seems open enough to sit down and have discussions, which would be the start of something."
The chief’s salary will be $145,000 a year.