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Albany Policing Reform And Reinvention Collaborative Public Meetings Closed To General Public, Media

As it kicks off a series of seven “much-anticipated” meetings over the next month on Wednesday, the Albany Policing Reform and Reinvention Collaborative has been soliciting public comment — using a series of press releases, a flyer, and web posts to alert residents.

The city says “the public meetings will be held virtually on Zoom” as residents testify about their experiences with policing.

Public, unless you merely want to watch the meetings — or cover them.

According to Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s chief of staff, David Galin, the chairs of the Collaborative’s working groups, which formed earlier this year, “collectively decided” to open the public input sessions “to only those who are providing comments.”

In an email, Galin added that the decision was reached “to ensure that people who have traumatic or otherwise sensitive suggestions/information regarding their opinions on how to reform policing be able to share them in a safe forum without fear of retribution or other action taken against them.”

When WAMC inquired whether the Collaborative’s public meetings could be held “closed press” under New York state’s Open Meetings Law, Galin said yes. 

Galin says the Collaborative and its working groups are considered advisory bodies and are not required to be open to the public or the media, unlike meetings of the Common Council — which takes votes — and its committees.

WAMC requested an advisory from the New York State Committee on Open Government, which agrees with Galin: “Staff of the Committee have reviewed the question of whether the police policy review task forces created pursuant to the governor’s executive order are ‘public bodies’ subject to the law and it is our opinion that they are not.”

In Albany and other localities across the state, the Collaborative was born following an Aug. 17 executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody in May.

Galin added the input from the seven sessions will inform the recommendations provided by the Collaborative to the Common Council this winter. He says the Council “will be holding a number of public meetings and hearings on the proposed reforms and the media will have an opportunity at that time to listen and observe” before the Council’s final vote.

The first several Collaborative meetings this year were held virtually because of the pandemic. Viewers could watch the meetings live on Zoom and Facebook and afterward on Facebook.

It’s not clear how the next seven meetings, also to take place via Zoom, will be run. Residents can submit written comments, but they can also check a box to sign up to speak at one of the meetings.

“There will not be a link for people to just watch,” Galin wrote.

The governor directed localities to earnestly reimagine policing and police policies by April 2021, with state funding at risk.

The executive order tasked each city or town’s chief executive with putting a local Collaborative together. Albany’s includes more than three dozen people: city and county officials including the police chief and district attorney, members of the police force, and local advocates.

A workbook created by the state at that time and released to localities and the public says “the Collaborative emphasizes transparency,” and says planning and deliberation meetings should be public.

The Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative was designed to enable all members of the community to participate in reimagining the role of law enforcement. Your process will not be successful if it simply restates the current functions, strategies and operations of the police department, without deep and probing consideration of the perspectives of those who seek reform. The Collaborative emphasizes transparency. All draft plans must be posted for public comment before finalization. Further, the chief executive must certify that the community was engaged in this process and the local legislative body ratified the plan. Transparency is essential to ensure that the plan reflects a shared vision for the future of law enforcement. Transparency entails:

• Making planning and deliberation meetings public.
• Polling and surveying the public for their views on specific issues, if feasible.
• Providing periodic updates as the planning process moves forward.
• Engaging local media.
• Making all research materials public.
• Having a plan to incorporate public comment feedback in the final plan.

According to the city, the schedule of the meetings is as follows:

1. Wednesday, December 9th, 2020; 6:00pm-8:00pm – General Meeting
2. Friday, December 11th, 2020; 6:00pm-8:00pm – Police Department Functions
3. Tuesday, December 15th, 2020; 6:00pm-8:00pm – Recruitment & Retention
4. Wednesday, December 16th, 2020; 6:00pm-8:00pm – Community Safety
5. Monday, January 4th, 2021; 6:00pm-8:00pm – General Meeting
6. Wednesday, January 6th, 2021; 6:00pm-8:00pm – Police SOP’s and GO’s
7. Monday, January 11th, 2021; 6:00pm-8:00pm – Civilian Oversight

Residents can register to speak at one of the public meetings using the form at the following link: https://www.albanyny.gov/Government/MayorsOffice/PoliceReformCollaborative.aspx
Community members also have the option to submit written comments by emailing coareform1@gmail.com or via USPS to the following address:

Police Reform
c/o Office of the Mayor
24 Eagle St.
Room 102
Albany, NY 12207

Comments can also be submitted via phone call or text to (518) 618-2268.

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