Two police accountability bills advance to a vote in Albany while debate continues over review board

Two laws implementing more scrutiny of the Albany Police Department were recommended for a vote before the full Common Council by the Public Safety Committee tonight, while another that would drastically revamp and empower the Community Police Review board was shelved for further review. 

Local Laws H and I would require the APD to share demographic data with the Common Council and mandate body camera use by officers and require the APD to report if any officer turns off their camera during duty more than once. Both laws will go before the Common Council on December 21 at 7 PM. 

Activists and community members urged the council to act quickly. “This will not be the last uprising you see if you don’t do something,”  Lauren Manning of The Center for Law and Justice told the council. Aden Suchak of Youth Political Alliance warned that young people are done waiting and they’ve made their voices heard at polling places across the county. “The time for you to act is running out,” said Suchak. 

The Public Safety Committee held Local Law J as it received a set of recommendations for revisions to the Community Police Review Board that have yet to be codified in the proposed law. 

All three laws were put forward during a press conference in June and the Public Safety Committee was initially going to sit on the bills until Albany’s Police Review Collaborative (mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order) finished its work. However, our reporting led the Council to abandon that plan and move faster. 

Criticized since its inception 20 years ago for lacking real teeth the Community Police Review Board fields complaints about interactions with the APD but lacks any real authority to take action when fault is found. 

New recommendations would give the body subpoena power, allow it to make disciplinary recommendations, give it one percent of the APD budget to fund investigators and other positions and hire an independent counsel. The board relies on the city’s attorney which is a clear conflict of interest given that the attorney also represents the APD. 

Debate over the recommendations started when Councilman Richard Conti expressed concern over a measure that calls for two new members of the CPRB–one who lives in an area of the city that see higher-than normal policing and someone who suffered police brutality. 

Are you putting on someone who might have bias,” asked Conti about appointing members who have been victims of police brutality. Later during the public comment period Attorney Mark Mishler rebuffed Conti. “The question is just backwards. He didn’t ask if someone on the board who has not experienced police brutality has a bias.” 

Councilman Joe Igoe, who has served on the council since 1997, griped that no one from the CPRB came to the council to ask for a subpoena since the board’s creation in 2000. He called the original board a “compromise.” 

CPRB board member Nairobi Vives responded that the new subpoena powers have nothing to do with what was decided in the past as the board has essentially been tasked with simply checking the work of the office of professional standards and would only need to ask for a subpoena if that office didn’t comply. 

“We are envisioning the board to be independent so it can serve the community. What he heard  from the community during the review process is that they do not not understand the length process, they want a separate investigation from us the one that the APD conducts and we need an  independent counsel  because currently we are using the corporation counsel that there is just an inherent conflict of interest theere. Our intention is to make the board stronger.  We want to make sure  we do have more teeth as many people in the community have been calling for for years.” 

Igoe also appeared concerned about giving the board a budget. Mishler countered those concerns as well, saying that 1 percent of the police budget is “not much. “In addition to that the city could save quite a lot of money if they cut the police department drastically, cut that budget,” said Mishler. “They do not need to be spending so much money on police, especially a lot of what the APD does is engage in racism and brutality.” 

Following debate over local law J Councilman Tom Hoey stressed that he wanted to take as much time as needed to take input on revamping the CPRB and requested Mishler submit written recommendations.

Councilman Owusu Anane countered that action should be taken as soon as possible saying, “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.” 

Hoey insisted that Mishler’s further input was important.

Anane responded by quoting a comment made by Mishler that he “held no special knowledge” and believed no more time should be wasted. “We had a press conference on these bills in June. We should pass local laws H, I and J. Now,” said Anane.

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