In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and others, Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that communities around the state come up with a police reform plan by April 1. Specifically, the governor asked localities to "reinvent and modernize" policing based on community input.
The city of Albany did just that coming up with a list of almost 40 recommendations, some of which could take up to five years to complete.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan sat down with Capital Tonight to discuss her city’s reform plan.
“I certainly think that looking at how we respond to calls is critically important,” Sheehan said. “We send police to almost every single type of call that we get, and often times those calls don’t require a police response. What we really need is an addiction specialist, or a mental health professional to be responding to those calls. That’s going to be a really important part of the work that we do.”
Sheehan also emphasized that the police department and the city need to be more accountable and transparent to the community. To facilitate that openness, she said it will require changing both how they collect data and the technology used to sift through it.
“(It) will allow us to be as transparent as possible with the community about policing in the city of Albany,” she explained.
While Albany City Councilman Kelly Kimbrough voted for the reform proposal, he and his colleagues on the council have some concerns.
“The issue that I and most councilmembers had is that we didn’t really see this as a plan,” he told Capital Tonight. “It’s a set of recommendations, albeit good recommendations, a lot of effort and work went into putting those together, but we were looking for something outside of the box.”
That said, Kimbrough says if these recommendations morph into a cohesive plan, it will be transformative, but there’s a long way to go.
“Converting those recommendations into action, setting goals, timelines, accountability structure, that’s what’s missing,” he explained.
The next step is to reform the general orders that govern how the police department functions.
In a statement sent to Capital Tonight, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said, “Over the last several months, the Albany Police Department has worked diligently with community stakeholders to draft a comprehensive document designed to transform policing in the city of Albany. We look forward to implementing the document’s recommendations over the months and years to come.”
Kimbrough said the hardest part will be getting buy-in from rank-and-file officers.
“I would have liked to have seen as part of this process more officers involved. We had leadership from the police department, but no rank-and-file officers,” he said.
Sheehan pointed out that union representatives were at the table, but that she largely agrees with Kimbrough’s analysis.
“I agree. We have to ensure that we’re supporting our officers. That we’re listening to them,” she said. “There were many people who were very critical of me for even inviting the police to become part of the conversation. But just as you can’t do education reform without talking to teachers, I believe that you can’t do policing reform without talking to the people who are doing the job.”