Despite years of effort to improve the relationship between law enforcement and residents of Albany, mistrust remains. That’s according to a new survey from the Center for Law and Justice.
During the spring of 2019, the Center for Law and Justice conducted a survey of some 250 Albany residents regarding public safety, law enforcement and community-police relations. The 41-page report is called "Pathway to Reformative Change: Public Safety, Law Enforcement and the Albany Community."
Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Alice Green says the survey questionnaire solicited residents' responses to several questions. "...about the police department, the District Attorney's office, and of course LEAD.... we did the interview in a couple of ways. One, the questionnaire was on the internet, our website, and people responded to that. We also interviewed people who were attending a number of community functions, like a fair here or a meeting there, and wanted to make sure that they felt that they could respond to the questions voluntarily and with some privacy issues, because they were raised and we wanted to make sure they felt that they were anonymous responses."
Green announced the study's major findings. "There's a great deal of mistrust between community people and the Albany Police Department. There's a great deal of mistrust between the Albany County District Attorney's Office and the community, and it ran along racial lines. People who were African-American or Latino felt that they were certainly not trusting of the Albany Police Department and the District Attorney's Office."
Green called it a "great disappointment" that a highly-touted police initiative that was rolled out in April 2016 is not apparently reaching survey respondents. "We thought more people in the community, by now, after three years of operation, would know about the LEAD program, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, and even though something around 50% of the people were aware of it, we had thought that we were able to carry out a pretty good educational program and that more of them would know about it."
Green added there was some indication from survey responses that there is confusion as to whether the Center is still involved with community policing as a philosophy. She says many either did not know about community policing or were convinced that the Center was not engaged in it. "We did, in this report, lay out 17 recommendations that were in response to what we heard and what our experience tells us."
Respondents’ concerns included police misconduct and the belief that racism is at the heart of many problems they are experiencing, and they remain strongly concerned about the police shooting that left Ellazar Williams paralyzed, and the March incident on First Street where body cam footage revealed police brutalized residents. "There's a fear that the community and some of its leaders, some community leaders mainly, would not accept this report. That they would dismiss it offhand and not get to some of the issues that are raised in the report. And that for us is a major concern."
The report's recommendations include stepping up efforts to educate and promote LEAD, acknowledging structural racism and educating the public about racism and civil rights history, 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.
Green says that lines of communication have been strained between the center and local officials. She noted that Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, the Albany Police Department and the District Attorney's Office were invited to attend the press conference. None were present. Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says he never got the invitation and "doesn't know where the wires got crossed." "This is a surprise to me that there's a perception that there's a lack of communication, again, not just Dr. Green's organization but any organization. You know one of the things that I made a priority for me as chief, is to open lines of communication with anybody in this community."
Hawkins says he is reviewing the report. The Mayor's office is also reviewing the report and its findings.
D.A. David Soares’ office responded to a request for comment by email: "Yes, we received a letter on Monday with the invitation. The DA had a previously scheduled meeting at the time of the event. We are still not in receipt of the final report."