Albany Common Council continues to dither on police reform




Five months after introducing “common sense” police reforms in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the Albany Common Council remains unready to actually vote on the legislation. 

A hearing on police reforms last night concluded without the bills being recommended out of the committee. Council members pledged to make changes to the legislation and meet again following criticism from a number of members of the Albany Police Department. 

In late September, Public Safety Committee Chair Kelly Kimbrough told members of the Albany Police Reform Collaborative that council “leadership and the Mayor” had decided not to move forward with the legislation until after the collaborative finished its work. 

Shortly after 518Independent reported on the delay members of the council reached out to tell us that our reporting on the matter had sparked urgency within council leadership. A  Public Safety Committee meeting was scheduled for Nov. 5.  

The meeting featured a number of written statements in support of the measures that would require APD officers to not turn off their body cameras, give the police review board subpoena power and increase data collection and sharing between the APD and city government. 

Decades in the Waiting 

Giving the review board subpoena power has been an issue for decades as the body is seen as toothless and unable to function with direct police oversight and assistance–which to many seem contradictory. That by groups like Alice Green’s Center for Law and Justice for decades.

Councilmen Joe Igoe and Richard Conti have both served on the body for over 20 years and recently announced they will not be seeking reelection. Both men should have deep familiarity with the issue. 

Many of the public commenters said that the proposed reforms have long been low-hanging fruit and advocated a holistic approach to revamping policing in the city. 

 

Representatives of the APD expressed a number of concerns with the legislation. Deputy Chief Edward Donohue complained about a “negative vibe” in the hearing and asked people to, “keep it positive. 

He said that having body cameras on at all times could negatively impact victims and prevent witnesses from speaking. He also said that much of the legislation is represented in existing APD policy. 

“I prefer law to the policy myself,” Kimbrough said later that evening, noting that it would be more powerful. 

Leading?

Councilman Aflredo Balarin advocated taking more time to “address some of these concerns” and took responsibility for drawing out the process. “Hopefully when it’s all said and done we’ll have a body of work we will have a body of work we can be proud of and be a model for communities that are just getting started,” he said, noting that some communities are just adopting body cameras. 

More progressive localities across the country have taken much more forceful action on police reform; including banning the use of tear gas on civilians, directing the police not to respond to civil disputes or calls against the homeless, or taking money from police budgets to use to bolster underserved communities. 

Councilman Igoe expressed concerns that Chief Auditor Dorcey Applyrs audit on police bias and findings of the police collaborative could have impact on the legislation and wondered if action should be tabled. 

Kimbrough responded the two processes are different and that the council’s discussion is around “law” and the collaborative was around changing “policy.” 

“The collaborative has gotten information tonight,” Council President Corey Ellis responded to Igoe, noting that it is information he can bring back with him to future meetings. “The collaborative is based on recommendations,” Ellis said, affirming that the council has the authority to act on its own. 

At the end of the meeting Kimbrough said that he “owns” the delay in moving the legislation forward and moved to continue the discussion in committee at a future date. No firm date was decided, although a point in mid December was suggested. “We can’t let it languish. We really have to get this done,” said Kimbrough.

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