In mid-August, the Center for Law and Justice published a 41-page report, based on a survey of some 250 Albany residents, regarding public safety, law enforcement and community-police relations. As public officials begin responding to its findings, Center Executive Director Alice Green has resolved to make the survey a "living document."
"Pathway to Reformative Change: Public Safety, Law Enforcement and the Albany Community" raised several concerns. Its major findings: the community is very mistrustful of the Albany Police Department and the Albany County District Attorney." Green said.
"The purpose of the survey, first of all, was to give people in the community an avenue for expecting some of the concerns that they had about public safety, law enforcement, and the relationship between the community and police. It was never designed to be a scientific survey, and we make that point in our report. But it was important to listen to people, and even though we came up with some findings that I'm sure many people were aware of and that is that there is a great distrust between the Albany Police Department and the community and the D.A.'s office and the community. But the important thing was that we heard from people, and we had a number of recommendations. We've been trying to get a better sense of how people are responding to that survey."
Follow-up letters were sent to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Chief Eric Hawkins and D.A. David Soares. O "We did not get any response from the mayor or the district attorney, but I did talk briefly to the police chief, who thought the survey was great and that it could be really helpful as he goes about making any changes in the department, so we were happy to hear that. And he also expressed interest in improving the communication between not only our office, but the community at large."
Green says the Center received several "responses over social media." Chief Hawkins told WAMC he never got an invite to the presser, giving weight to Green's assertion that "lines of communication have been strained between the center and local officials." Since then, Green and Hawkins have re-opened those lines. The D.A.’s office has not responded to a request for comment. Both the mayor and the chief have since reviewed the report. "I looked at the report and you know certainly there were, as the report indicates, community policing is something that is continuous. You're never finished. Creating trust within the community is something that is continuous, and you're never finished. And it really highlights that there can be, you know, one incident that erodes trust and so it constantly needs to be rebuilt, and so, and if we have the right police chief at the right time, doing a lot of the right things to ensure that we are working to create a relationship of trust between the police and the broader community," Sheehan said.
Hawkins said "I think one thing that could have been better I guess, is that it could have captured some of the other sentiments from people in the community. And while there are some who distrust the police and have dissatisfaction with certain aspects of police work, not just in Albany, but across the country, there are many many others who really are satisfied, who really have a respect for the police, who wanna work with the police officers in the community, who understand that it's a tough job and those officers out there are really doing the best that they can. That they have the best of intentions, they have good hearts. They have a service mentality. And so there are many many of those people out there, and I think in all fairness it would have, in order to put some context to this whole issue, I think a better picture would have been to have more of those people who are out there, and there are many many out there, and to have them, more of those folks, that would have been represented in such a survey."
As Green moves toward her goal of making the report "a living document," she embraces the idea of getting feedback from more people, and she hopes the report will move the Albany Common Council to take action of some kind, as the Center develops a process for monitoring and tracking the report's recommendations.
"So in a year we should be able to issue our report card, that we call it, that looks at what we manage to do in this community and where we need to go beyond that," Green said.
The report's recommendations include requiring more transparency and clarification of policies from police and the D.A., including allowing the public to view use of force records, along with the need to find ways that law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system may identify and address the presence of systemic racism.