The Albany Community Policing Advisory Committee and the Albany Police Department hosted a forum on community policing Tuesday night at the Jewish Community Center.
As people arrived and began to mingle and find their seats, Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center For Law and Justice in Albany, remarked that community policing has proven itself in the city. "It's certainly something that I am happy to be a part of. And I think now we have to figure out where we're gonna go with this, because we've had changes in police chiefs. And I think each one of them has a different perspective on community policing, and I don't know what the new chief's perspective is but hopefully it's line with what we've been working with."
The room was about to discover Acting Police Chief Robert Sears would carry on above and beyond the lines established by his predecessors, Chiefs Steven Krokoff and Brendan Cox.
Sears then narrated a brief PowerPoint presentation, saying his goal is to enhance what the department is already doing: he pointed out that 620 police-community events were held in 2016. There were implicit bias training sessions. The law enforcement diversion initiative. Use of technology and social media to deepen communication with citizens. He proclaimed "every officer is a community police officer." In-house, the department offers its members a variety of training, education and health and wellness programs.
Sears noted the body cam program is on schedule, and said by May a final vendor will be selected. A draft policy is online for public view. He said policies were updated in 2016; he awaits a report on the department's use of force policy. During the Q and A, citizens bantered back and forth with Sears and the mayor.
The first question from an audience member: "Is Albany a sanctuary city or not?" To which the mayor responded with a resounding YES. She also mentioned the $12.5 million budget gap, telling the people she believes Albany will receive the state funding it has requested.
Chief Sears handled the crowd well, tackling a variety of other topics that emerged. "You know I enjoy myself, I like talkin' to people. Very comfortable. We have a lot of really good things going on, so it's easy to talk about good things."
Bad things too...
"What is being done to address the needs of organizations like the JCC, like synagogues, like churches, like other community centers in our area when there are threats?"
"My husband has been in prison for 25 years for a crime he didn't commit. And he was framed by the police and railroaded by the police. And nobody seems to care, nobody seems to know, can tell me, what I can do."
"I just wish, I wish there was a way that we could, you know, have something for ex-convicts to come back in the community, to work with the community."
Sears commented later: "Anytime we get together with a group of folks in the community and talk about what's going on, it's always a great opportunity for us to learn from everyone in the community. Fantastic! We had a great crowd. Lotta great questions, lotta good comments. Good crowd. So we had 60, 70 people in maybe."
Albany Community Policing Advisory Committee member Dom Calsolaro says there are many benefits to community policing. "I was contacted by White Plains. They're looking to do a type of a community police committee made up of citizens because of some issues they've been having there. And we know the City of Albany Police Department has gotten national awards, national recognition, by President Obama last year, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way we do the community policing, involving the citizens.”
Also discussed: community block grant money, neighborhood safety and traffic problems. 10th ward Common Council Member Leah Golby: "It was really great to see a packed house and a really diverse set of questions and people from all across the city coming to the JCC tonight. There were great questions. The chief did a great job with is presentation. As always, I learned something about what our progressive police department is doing."
After the forum, Sears addressed "the big question." - "Are you pushing for that chief's job or what?"
He replied "Well, we'll take one day at a time. You know, we'll wait and see what happens when everything comes out."
According to Sears, another police-community forum is expected in May.