Clerics Approve Albany Police Initiatives

Jun 9, 2016

Local African American clergy, the NAACP, and some Albany city officials celebrated what they call an improving relationship with the police today on the steps of Albany City Hall. But  all was not harmonious.

"We also wanted to ensure that Albany remains a place that we are proud of and a place where we can trust each other in those that are hired to protect us and serve as guardians over our city,"   said David Traynham, pastor of New Horizons Christian Church, as he joined other clerics at city hall, praising changes the city police department has made since Dontay Ivy died in April 2015, after officers stopped him on an Arbor Hill street, eventually subduing him with a stun gun.

Public outcry eventually resulted in conferences between police, community and clergy, with police agreeing to make changes, including having officers wear body cams and save video and audio files of any incidents recorded. Pastor McKinley Johnson with the Greater St. Johns Church lauded the police department.    "For improving training, and it's already started, surrounding the issues of police legitimacy, and building community trust."

Johnson said he approved of the "implicit bias training" that Chief Brendan Cox has rolled out, as well as harm reduction and crisis intervention training initiatives and changes to the court system.  "In the fall of 2016, we would like to open up the youth court to up the age to 18, in effect, allowing us to raise the age for certain offenses."

Another welcome change includes business cards for all officers so they can better identify themselves. The clerics anticipate additional meetings with law enforcement agencies, stepping up dialogue, and breaking down barriers that have stood for decades.

Pastor Traynham noted that the clerics and other officials met with authorities from the FBI and Department of Justice to share what investigators who reviewed evidence in the Ivy case found, after a grand jury cleared officers.   "In this instance, the Department of Justice made the determination to not prosecute the police officers involved or the Albany Police Department."

Traynham promised to keep dialogue a priority.   "We're no longer Arbor Hill, we're no longer South End, we're no longer West Hill. We are one city, and we are standing here today to say that we are taking those boundaries down, and we are now going to stand as one city, undivided, so that when we speak, we're going to speak as one voice."

Another pastor ended the press conference with a prayer. Then Black Lives Matter activists intervened, arguing that the Ivy family was not notified about the press conference, one of the group confronting Pastor Traynham:   "Dontay's family member, who was not invited, found out one hour ago, because this morning on the news, wait wait wait, as we were, don't grab me, don't tough me, he grabbed my wrist! It's not about Black Lives Matter, it's about Mrs. Ivy, who should be able to speak. She can speak... [argument ensues]"

Traynham chided the group:   "You're trying to undermine what we've done."

Dontay Ivy's aunt Celinda Okwousa speaks with reporters as Black Lives Matter activists look on.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Ivy's Aunt Celinda Okwousa:   "We all have to bring justice for Dontay. And I don't diminish any effort or anything that any organization has done today. And I must say that I did get the message this morning about this meeting but I must say too that Pastor Traynham had been trying to reach me for over a month with my pastor, but he had to go out of the country and somehow we disconnected."

Okwousa says she approves of the police changes highlighted by the clergymen.

Tryanham says he is willing to work with Black Lives Matter.   "We don't want a bunch of marching and hollering and screaming. We're there to influence the policies goings forward. The policies to procedures of the Albany Police Department, hopefully laws, but not only in Albany but because the FBI is involved, we're hoping we can start something on the national level."

NYCLU Capital Region Chapter President Colin Donnaruma isn't convinced.    "Excessive and deadly force was used against a completely innocent citizen with no accountability to the officers who carried this out. None of the proposed reforms address the systemic issues of racial profiling, unconstitutional stop and frisk policing, and an unaccountable use of violence by police. We're talking about body cameras and having cops carry business cards. Those are not the fundamental issues here."

The police department announced another community discussion about body cameras June 14th at the Albany Public Library, releasing a draft plan for their implementation.  The Albany Police Department along with members of the community have been working to develop a policy for body worn cameras. Please click the link below to view the DRAFT policy and provide feedback or recommendations.

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