frustration mark the ongoing public conversation on accountability
at the APD
to Mayor Jerry Jenning’s radio show asked him recently for
“one incident in the last 18 months where an officer has really
been held accountable.” The mayor responded that several officers
“aren’t presently working” but that “it’s easy to take these
incidents and generalize about a department. . . . I have
a fine police department. Do we have issues like any other
organization? You’re going to have issues. Are we going to
deal with them? Yes. . . . So just be careful, and just be
fair.” Jennings added, “We’ve also had a police officer lose
his life in the line of duty trying to protect the citizens
here. Some people seem to just dismiss that.”
chart on the following pages, we present a roundup of 15 incidents
within the APD that have made headlines or caused citizen
concern in the past 18 months. These incidents span a range
of problems, and the response from within the department varies
as well. Though APD spokesman Detective James Miller says
that it’s the media’s fault that the public perceives a problem,
ongoing discussions within community groups, local Web logs
and government watchdog agencies may indicate that the public’s
concern is justified.
has always been a problem with the [Albany Police] Department,”
says Alice Green, executive director of the Center for Law
and Justice. “That’s not a problem with the media—that’s a
problem with the police department.”
context, Metroland turned to Dr. Samuel Walker, a professor
at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who has published 11
books on policing, criminal-justice history and policy, and
civil liberties, the most recent of which is Police Accountability:
The Role of Citizen Oversight. Walker maintains the resource
Web site www.policeaccountability.org, and travels around
the country helping cities set up police accountability systems.
Albany’s troubles unusual? Well, yes and no. Most cities have
problems of one sort or another with police accountability,
says Walker. “It’s the nature of policing. You have people
with extraordinary powers, officers working by themselves,
under high-stress conditions. There’s continually problems.
It’s the nature of police work.”
other hand, he said, most cities of Albany’s size will show
recurrent problems in just one of the categories that Albany
has seen—excessive force, perhaps—and not the persistent variety
of problems Albany is seeing. When Walker was presented with
the list we compiled, he responded, “This sounds like you’ve
got some problems with basic professional standards with officers.”
Walker is very optimistic about the potential to reform police
departments. He says that any department that doesn’t have
someone internal assigned to “look at the patterns” from a
risk-management perspective and continually improve the system
is “behind the ball.” Additionally, his recommendation for
oversight and accountability is something called a “police
auditor”—an independent department within a city that audits
police internal investigations for quality and does broader
“policy audits.” An auditor may also produce public reports
on controversial incidents to “sort out fact from fiction
auditors are now in place in 12 cities, from Los Angeles to
Boise, Idaho. Walker recommends auditors over civilian complaint
review boards because the boards can address only individual
complaints, rather than systemic issues, and may therefore
scapegoat particular officers for what are really supervisory
issues. Auditors can take a broader look, and as municipal
employees, have access by law to information others can’t
instead of looking for rotten apples, let’s look for the rotten
barrel,” says Walker. “If you have recurring problems, it’s
because there’s a lack of supervision or a lack of good policies,
or [the department doesn’t] learn from bad incidents.”
the supposedly independent auditors still appointed by the
mayor? Yes, says Walker. Mayors have to support the accountability
process. “Ultimately, if you have a mayor who doesn’t care,
no particular structure is going to work.”
analogy wasn’t meant to keep all individuals from facing
accountability for their actions, notes Walker. Responding
to the case of Officer Krikorian, who burned down a building
in Green Island by driving drunk, he said, “That officer should
have been fired. He committed a crime, didn’t he? Isn’t there
a statute on that?” (No there isn’t, says APD spokesman James
many of the offending police officers have felt some repercussion
for their activities—some say not enough—the most troubling
aspect of the last 18 months may be found in the official
responses to these activities. Metroland offers up
the following account of recent police activities, along with
the responses offered in their wake by the police and government
officials, in the hope that readers may form their own answers
to the question that has given these officials so much trouble:
Should law-enforcement officers be held to the same standard
as the public, or cut some slack due to the dangers they face
Jeffrey Metcalfe was arrested on charges that he stole
$36,000 in overtime over multiple months. Metcalfe allegedly
forged signatures of supervisors and worked fewer hours than
he billed the department.
policemen, we’re not accountants, we’re not mathematicians,
we’re not financial officers. But as people rise and get into
other positions they have to adapt and be able to handle those
administrative duties. . . . This was a very unfortunate situation
for that young officer and his family.” –former Public Safety
Commissioner John C. Nielsen (Times Union, Oct. 28,
one year paid leave, Metcalfe, who could have been charged
with multiple counts of forgery and offering a false instrument
for filing, was instead charged with one count of felony grand
larceny. He accepted a deal in which he pleaded guilty to
a single count of second-degree criminal possession of a forged
instrument, which would come with a six-month sentence and
require him to pay $10,000 in restitution out of the $36,000
he stole from the city. Metcalfe resigned from the force.
His sentencing was put off this Monday (May 2) at the request
of District Attorney David Soares, who has no jurisdiction
in the case, because Metcalfe indicated he is “in possession
of information that may be of interest” to the DA’s office.
night Lt. John Finn was mortally wounded, police were called
to Lark Street to break up a fight involving Public Safety
Commissioner John C. Nielsen and two men who had been harassing
him and his companion. One of the harassers was injured. Nielsen’s
name was conspicuously absent from the resulting arrest report,
even though any use of force by an officer resulting in prisoner
injury must be recorded. The report simply stated that the
man “was involved in a street fight with unknown parties.”
of Nielsen’s role in the brawl on the official arrest report
was never publicly addressed, as media attention was focused
on the fatal shooting of Finn later that night.
force/ dangerous car chase
pursued a car that fled a traffic stop on State Street and
set up a blockade on Lark Street. When the driver gunned the
car in reverse toward an officer, two officers opened fire,
continuing to fire at the car as it fled the scene. A bystander,
David Scaringe, was killed by a ricochet. Car chases are
not supposed to be pursued when they would be likely to put
bystanders in danger. Officers are supposed to fire their
weapons only if they fear for their lives.
be preliminary and it would be wrong for me to say at this
time that it was justified.” –Police Chief Robert Wolfgang
(TU, Jan. 2, 2004). “I’m not going to say our policy
is wrong, but if [Chief] Bob Wolfgang feels we should fine-tune
it, then we will.”—Mayor Jerry Jennings, (TU, Jan.
3, 2004). “I don’t see any reason for them not to return to
work.” –Mayor Jerry Jennings (TU, May 5, 2004) “It’s
a tragedy and we’ve made something positive from it.” –Mayor
Jerry Jennings (TU, Jan. 6, 2005).
were on paid leave during the entire investigation. A grand
jury did not indict them. After a private settlement, they
received in- service training and job counseling; they remain
on job-related-illness leave. After a few more car-chase problems
(see below), the car-chase policy was studied and then was
made much stricter. Better radio communication was installed
to allow supervisors to call off chases, and the use-of-deadly-force
policy was also revised to be more stringent. The city settled
a civil lawsuit with the Scaringe family for a record $1.3
Police Review Board had to resort to threatening to seek
a subpoena (which only the Common Council can give) before
the APD gave the board copies of its policies on use of deadly
force, strip searches, high-speed chases, and racial profiling.
John C. Nielsen claimed the delay was due to “communication
in the year the review-board chair resigned in frustration,
saying the board didn’t have enough power to do independent
investigations. The board’s powers have not been expanded.
of justice, possibly others
As a supervisor
in the detective office, former Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro
encountered overtime abuse, lax recordkeeping and an underground
practice of “atta boy” days—unofficial days off, all of which
were costing city taxpayers a lot of money. His supporters
say his reports pointing to possible fraud and corruption
caused him to be bumped to a different command and then fired
in January 2004, allegedly for participating in the distribution
of a racist flyer. Supporters say he was targeted as a whistleblower,
and that incriminating computer records were deleted before
various departmental audits took place.
just doing some internal movement that will hopefully be,
in the long run, better for the department as well.”—then-Chief
Robert Wolfgang (TU, Oct. 23, 2003). “[Wolfgang] also
called the commander ‘insubordinate’ and described his first
transfer out of the detective’s office as ‘for his good and
the good of the Albany Police Department’ due to accusations
that he was creating a ‘hostile work environment.’”—Metroland
(March 11, 2004).
happened to any of the other people known to have distributed
the flyer. Officially, the practice of “atta boy” days has
been ended without department officials fully acknowledging
that it existed. D’Alessandro is suing the city for wrongful
of the APD’s expenditures from the seized-asset fund went
to non-law-enforcement items, such as office decorations,
automatic car-starters, and social functions. Also, former
Commissioner John C. Nielsen took $240 in various installments
from a department safe for “misc” purposes and provided no
receipts or indication if the money was returned. They hired
an “expert” from the state police in April 2004 to say everything
was fine. A city-comptroller audit and then a federal DOJ
release in January 2005 confirmed these inappropriate expenses.
stop doing it, but we still feel we’re right because it’s
for the community,” Police Chief James Turley (TU,
Jan. 25, 2005). “[State Police Investigator Anthony] Pascuito
said those were allowed expenses, though some might be in
‘gray areas’” –Metroland (April 1, 2004).
were charged with wrongdoing. The APD tightened its accounting
and bookkeeping procedures and said it would bring its spending
more closely in line with the rules.
student Diego Jaramillo was allegedly severely beaten by
three officers. Jaramillo and a group of friends were
walking home through an alley on Hudson Street when they heard
glass breaking and someone screaming “He’s got a knife.” Jaramillo
ran when he saw a group running toward him. Officer James
Olson found him under a porch and allegedly told him, “I’ll
show you for running, grunt!” Olsen then allegedly jumped
on Jaramillo’s back and began to beat him until Jaramillo
lost consciousness. Officers Louis Aiossa and Melissa Ketzer
allegedly joined in the beating. Jaramillo suffered a head
injury, multiple fractures and lacerations, a deviated septum
and a ruptured eardrum. Officers say Jaramillo ran and then
attacked Olsen while he was being handcuffed.
went forward with the case [against Jaramillo]. That speaks
for itself.”–APD Spokesman Detective James Miller. (TU,
April 2, 2004)
over a jukebox led to a brawl between a group of patrons
and five or six off-duty Albany Police officers at Tommy’s
Place, a bar on Albany Shaker Road.
of the guys has been suspended but we have an administrative
investigation going on,” –APD Spokesman Detective James Miller
(TU, May 26, 2004).
were made public.
cruisers chased a stolen car through the West Hill neighborhood
mid-morning, following as it drove the wrong way up a
one-way street. The stolen vehicle crashed into another car
at North Lake, injuring the other driver.
you’re a psychic, who knows what the next turn is?” Turley,
(TU, May 20, 2004)
2004, the vehicle-pursuit policy was changed to make it more
explicit that officers must “balance the risks associated
with a pursuit against the risk of terminating a pursuit.”
police vehicles, including one unmarked car, pursued a stolen
vehicle through the city and out to Thacher Park. No more
than two cars are allowed in a pursuit, and they can’t be
the probe, police officials said they don’t intend to make
any changes to their pursuit policy. . . . I’ve asked the
chief to review it. And if he has to admonish or reprimand
people in the department for their involvement, if it violated
procedure, I’ve asked that it be done.” –Mayor Jerry Jennings
(TU, Sept. 21, 2004).
investigation. Changes to pursuit policy were announced in
October (see above)
to State Police reports, officer Greg Krikorian had a blood
alcohol content of 0.16 percent—twice the legal limit
for driving—when he backed into a garage in his apartment
complex and started a fire that engulfed the building and
incinerated five garages and one apartment. No one was injured,
but all the property in the apartment was destroyed. Before
arriving home, Krikorian also swerved into a guardrail, bending
several rail posts and puncturing his fuel tank (hence the
fire), and may have hit a truck on Interstate 787.
him alone, he’s a good kid. . . . You’re in Cohoes, so I don’t
care what you think . . . The young man’s learned from it.
That’s all we ask.” –Mayor Jerry Jennings, to a caller to
the mayor’s WROW radio show, April 22, 2004. “You have lawyers,
doctors, journalists who are arrested for DWI and don’t lose
their jobs. I think it’s unfair for officers to be treated
differently from everyone else. People make mistakes.” –APD
Spokesman James Miller, May 4, 2005.
police charged Krikorian with driving while intoxicated and
leaving the scene of an accident. He was arrested, without
being handcuffed, and issued an appearance ticket. He pleaded
guilty to the reduced charge of driving while ability impaired
on Dec. 21. He was fined $300, and his license was suspended
for 90 days. Krikorian was suspended during the criminal proceedings.
When they were complete, he was reinstated.
robber, hopped up on a self-described crack-cocaine binge
made possible by the money from his previous day’s robbery,
was turned away by detectives at South Station on Arch
Street when he tried to turn himself in.
officer was suspended for 30 days, which was then lowered
to one week (see below).
meeting privately with officials from the police union, Albany
Chief James Turley decided to reduce the suspension handed
down to the officer who turned away a bank robbery suspect
at South End station from 30 days to one week. This information
was leaked to the local media, and union and police officials
quickly initiated an investigation into the identity of the
informant. The department’s investigation appeared to end
with detectives identifying which computer was used to send
the e-mail, but union officials went a step further, identifying
the sender. Both Turley and District Attorney David Soares
had refused to issue subpoenas to allow investigation of the
sender’s personal e-mail account, and the union has not said
how they traced the message. However, when the sender learned
he had been identified, he wrote to Turley requesting an investigation
into how and why his personal e-mail account had been compromised.
When a member of the local media asked Turley about the
message, he denied ever receiving it—only to admit that this
was a lie when presented with proof of the message’s existence.
I apologize. If it costs me my job, so be it.” –Chief James
Turley (TU March 7, 2005). “To the best of my knowledge,
nothing was done illegally. . . . The chief basically encouraged
us to do our own investigation.” –Chris Mesley, president
of the Albany Police Officers Union (TU March 7, 2005).
“I recognize the power and responsibility of my office and
the need for integrity and credibility.” –Chief Turley (TU
March 13, 2005).
into the union’s methods was initiated, and there was no disciplinary
action taken against Turley.
girl was punched in the face by an officer while police
were attempting to break up a fight between Livingston Middle
School students. The girl, whose cheekbone was fractured,
was then arrested and brought to Albany Med for treatment.
The officer said she was interfering with his attempt to break
up the fight and kicked him in the groin.
was assaulted. He acted appropriately as we see it right now.
He has to defend himself as he’s being attacked whether it’s
a 14-year-old or a 44-year-old.” –APD Spokesman Detective
James Miller (Channel News 9, April 21, 2005). “I will hold
my police officers accountable, and if something is done wrong,
we’ll deal with it. . . . I think we should not be quick to
jump until we know about this incident.” –Mayor Jerry Jennings,
WROW radio show, April 22, 2005.
lawsuit against the officer. The victim will have to undergo
surgery and has been out of school since April 7.
crashing his vehicle into a parked minivan with enough force
to send the van into another parked car, Officer Robert Schunk
was charged with driving while intoxicated. According to APD
spokesman Detective James Miller, Schunk exhibited “slurred
speech, glassy eyes” and “an odor of alcoholic beverages.”
Schunk refused to take a breathalyzer test and was
officer is no different from anybody else that would’ve been
involved in another accident.” –APD Spokesman Detective James
Miller. (WTEN, April 22, 2005) “This is very similar to a
doctor, lawyer or teacher that would go out and drink and
drive.” –Miller. (CN9 April 22, 2005).
was suspended without pay for 30 days (a maximum based on
union contracts) and pleaded not guilty on April 24. He returned
to court May 2.