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Department of Dysfunction

 

The 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 or Jennings.

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.


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