time has come for a true investigation into the inner workings,
training and management of the Albany Police Department. An
investigation that is not overseen by Mayor Jerry Jennings
or one of the many police chiefs he has appointed during his
tenure as mayor.
In Albany, scandal, like sand on a beach, is cyclically washed
away and redeposited. Just a week ago, Albany was rocked by
a story, by Brendan Lyons of the Times Union, about
the Albany Police Department’s alleged illegal cavity searching
of Lisa Shutter on the streets of West Hill.
While horror stories about APD profiling in the city have
been around for some time, it seemed the issue was finally
getting the attention it deserved. And then came the stunning
news about Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The Spitzer sex scandal eclipsed Lyons’ follow-up report that
another woman had come forward alleging the same sort of treatment
by the APD. But the many stories of police misconduct, especially
allegations made by Lisa Shutter that internal affairs advised
her to not bring her case to the Albany Citizens’ Police Review
Board, must not be forgotten by the citizens or officials
of the city of Albany.
Shutter’s allegations regarding internal affairs’ advice to
not involve the ACPRB demonstrate that officials in the APD
have no regard for the body created to restore and promote
trust between them and a large part of the community—the part
that has been disenfranchised, scared and, possibly, underserved
and abused by its officers.
Although it is reassuring that Albany County District Attorney
David Soares will be looking into the case, far more must
be done to ensure responsibility within the APD and accountability
from the politicians who oversee it. It is time to create
an independent authority that can receive citizens’ complaints
and investigate claims separate from any internal investigations.
The ACRPB is simply impotent and needs to be replaced. A citywide
effort must be undertaken to create a new authority, and that
effort must not be dominated by Police Chief James Tuffey
Tuffey has failed to give the Albany Common Council answers
about the illegal sale of guns by members of his department,
and there is no reason to expect him to be forthcoming with
answers about these latest allegations of abuse.
The Times Union’s Fred LeBrun has called for the APD
to hand Shutter’s case over to the ACPRB, but in our eyes
that action is simply too little, too late.
The ACPRB is already seen by many as a weak body, expertly
controlled and directed by the APD. Without subpoena power
and the power to independently investigate, the ACRPB is at
the APD’s mercy. By its constitution, it has few resources
to bring to bear in dealing with cases of the magnitude of
Shutter’s. In fact, it is impossible for the ACPRB to note
whether a single officer has been involved in multiple complaints.
Experts on law enforcement note that police departments with
police ombudsmen or review boards with independent investigatory
power generally have a friendlier and more open relationship
with the communities they serve.
Therefore, we believe it is time that the APD and the police
union realize that the community’s trust in them is at stake,
and it is necessary for them to submit themselves to a thorough,
independent investigation. Not only does the ACRPB need more
power, it also needs more independence. For far too long Jennings
has made the city’s departments his political tools. The result
for the APD is a department whose standards have continually
deteriorated, while its members work in constant uncertainty.
Conduct in the APD has put the city in both legal and financial
jeopardy through the many potential and real lawsuits alleging
brutality and civil-rights violations it has had to respond
to. A recent suit against the city that found officer William
Bonnani guilty of brutality will cost the city $265,000 dollars—a
price our financially burdened city can not afford. And yet
Bonnani still serves as a police officer. It may well be time
to involve the U.S. Justice Department in the affairs of the
APD to ensure that our officers are trained properly, understand
the neighborhoods they serve and know right from wrong.
In the next few weeks we will hear calls for reform from the
community, activists and members of the Albany Common Council.
It would be wise for Jennings and Tuffey to stop stonewalling.
The city has suffered enough from the pair’s determination
to play their hands close to their vests. For too long we
have heard Tuffey and Jennings invoke tones of President George
W. Bush by telling concerned citizens and council people that
they know best and have things under control. The evidence
is more than ample that things are far from under control.