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The Better to See You With
Proposal to install cameras in police cars gains momentum

In what feels like a rare in stance of consensus between concerned citizens, Common Council members and the Albany Police Department, the city is moving toward installing cameras in its police cars.

Legislation proposed by 3rd Ward Councilman Michael Brown to the Common Council last month to require the cameras was referred to the Public Safety Committee for review. That review began last week. Brown is pushing for the legislation because he believes it will help eliminate bias and guesswork in the aftermath of an incident, and thereby help protect both police and the public from spurious allegations [“Case Closed, Questions Opened,” Newsfront, May 13]. At the Public Safety Committee meeting, the legislation was reviewed, and Brown, Police Chief James Turley and Assistant Chief Paula Breen were questioned about the issues surrounding the cameras.

During the meeting, the police department and the committee members appeared generally amenable to the idea of installing cameras. Councilwoman and committee member Sarah Curry-Cobb said, “For us not to do something that protects the officers as well as the residents would be shortsighted.”

They agreed, however, that there are many issues that still need ironing out: What kind of system will be used? Which cars should get cameras first? What kind of control will patrol officers get over their cameras? How long will footage be kept and will it be public information?

The police know they don’t want dash-mounted cameras because there is too much equipment already there; instead they hope cameras can be mounted near the dome light. Digital cameras also seem to be the preferred route. The police department is currently researching different systems to recommend to the committee. Brown had requested the cameras be installed by July 1, though the process likely will take longer.

Brown requested a reapportionment of $300,000 of the city’s budget to cover the cost of the equipment. “If we could spend more than $1.2 million dealing with lawsuits [in the last few years], I think we should be able to handle another $300,000 to protect our people and also rebuild confidence in the police department,” said Brown.

During the meeting’s public comment period, resident Harry Wilcox said “the cost of this is a moot point if we rebuild the trust in the police department.”

Police spokesman Jim Miller said the department had previously considered cameras but decided against them because they found that because so much police work in an urban setting is done away from the car, the cameras would not be effective. In many systems, however, microphones on the officers would still create an audio record even if an interaction is off-camera.

Last year, Schenectady installed a digital-camera system in 12 of its 20 marked cars, which cost $100,000. Lt. Pete Frisoni Jr., a spokesman for the Schenectady Police Department said the system has been useful thus far and “allows us to ensure that our officers are acting professionally, and it helps us to make sure that false complaints aren’t being made against officers.”

Schenectady’s cameras start rolling when a patrol car’s lights are activated, recording an incident on a reusable DVD; officers can also turn the cameras on or off manually. The DVDs are archived for six months and then recorded over “unless they’re requested as evidence or there’s a possibility they may be requested for evidence, then we’ll take them out of circulation and they will be archived,” Frisoni said. He added that DVDs are routinely checked at random, and contentious incidents are reviewed when they arise to make sure officers are adhering to departmental policy. Footage of a particular incident is available to the public, though no one has requested any yet. So far the footage has been used for training and evidentiary purposes.

Breen said she anticipates some opposition to the cameras from civil-liberties groups. But Melanie Trimble, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Region chapter, said the group supports using cameras in police cars “because it not only protects cops but it protects the people who are being arrested.” The civil-liberties concerns arise if officers’ private conversations are being taped or if the footage is kept indefinitely. “Open-ended investigations are really not favorable from a civil-liberties point of view,” she said. She and others said that the film should be available to the public at its request.

In Albany, advocates of police accountability see the cameras as an opportunity for accurate information to be gathered at crucial moments. “I fully support it because I think then we can have an accurate record of what happens,” said Loralynne Krobetzky, a friend of David Scaringe, who was killed by an errant bullet on New Year’s Eve when police opened fire on a fleeing car on Lark Street. Krobetzky has been outspoken about the need for police department reform. “Right now all we have to go on is the words of the police and the words of witnesses,” she said, “and I think we’ve seen that the police are given the benefit of the doubt.”

Brown said the community response has also been positive; tonight he will host a community meeting at the Church of God and Prophecy (57 Livingston Ave., Albany) at 6 PM to discuss the installation of cameras, as well as issues related to public safety, code enforcement and the Arbor Hill Development Project.

—Ashley Hahn

Corrupt the youth, who us? Skinless.
For Those About to Rock, We Condemn You
Glens Falls residents crusading against upcoming Aggressive Music Festival find little sympathy for their views

For the past few weeks, Susan Balfour and Diane LaFontaine have had a lot to say about the upcoming Aggressive Music Festival, a two-day bill featuring some of the biggest names in metal, scheduled to take place at the Glens Falls Civic Center on the weekend of July 17 and 18. In the local papers and at city council meetings, the duo have voiced their concerns about the themes of sex and violence prevalent in some of the bands’ lyrics, and have gone as far as to call for the show’s cancellation. Balfour even collected a few hundred signatures to that end. Not that they are telling any of this to Metroland.

Following repeated attempts to reach Balfour for comment, a man answered the phone at her residence Wednesday, and said that “we’re dealing with this right here and I don’t think [Balfour] wants to deal with you.” When LaFontaine was reached at home Wednesday morning, she too declined comment on the crusade.

Balfour’s and LaFontaine’s refusal to answer questions for this story may have to do with the widespread criticism their crusade has received. Word of their campaign has spread all over the Internet, been translated into a handful of languages and widely trashed.

“People like this Susan Balfour don’t understand the real story behind the music they attack,” reads one of 70-odd posts about the attempt to cancel the show on the metal news site “Heavy metal bands (most of them anyway) use aggressive music, violent lyrics and occasional shock tactics as an ALTERNATIVE to real life violence. Metal musicians and fan[s] vent their frustrations and hatred through music, so they don’t need to act out in other, more consequential ways.”

Expletives were more prevalent in other posts.

While Balfour and LaFontaine refused to comment, 3rd Ward Glens Falls City Councilman Bud Taylor, 67, isn’t backing down. He too believes the concert could have negative ramifications for the city, especially the youth who attend the show.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen the bands’ lyrics, but they’re very suggestive and promote death and violence and suicide and everything that is bad, OK,” Taylor said. “I’m concerned about the impact it has on the youth, period. It is not a good message to send—if you’re unhappy with life it’s OK to go out and kill cops and kill women.”

Taylor has asked other council members to cancel the show, but acknowledges that he is alone on the issue.

“No one else is opposed; I know that it is coming,” Taylor admits. “I realize that it is a freedom of speech thing, but I just don’t think that a community should be supporting that kind of thing.”

The Aggressive Music Festival, which will feature more than 30 bands on two stages over two days, will include such acts as Soulfly, Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Skinless, Shadows Fall and Sick of It All. (The show is being promoted by Step Up Presents, which is run by Metroland senior account executive Ted Etoll.)

And the show will go on, said Suzanna Bernd, the Civic Center’s executive director.lBernd said.

David Turner, producing director of the Adirondack Theater Festival, said the hubbub over the two-day concert reflects poorly on recent efforts within the city to place Glens Falls on the map as an arts and cultural destination. Recent renovations to the Hyde Museum, the upcoming unveiling of the ATF’s completed Charles Wood Theater and big name acts being booked at the Civic Center with greater frequency are evidence that the city has much to offer, Turner said. He worried that the hysteria could scare off future promoters from booking big shows at the Civic Center.

“The city has been trying to dig out from underneath the Civic Center for years, and you’ve got this opportunity to make some money from this concert,” Turner said. “I just think, if you’re in the concert promoting business, you take what you can get when you’re Glens Falls.”

But the Civic Center’s Bernd said that the hype surrounding the festival shouldn’t have a chilling effect on promoters’ willingness to book shows at the Civic Center in the future. And besides, it’s a lot of free publicity, she said.

“I think what will primarily influence promoters is how the show itself goes; if it’s successful artistically and financially,” Bernd said.

—Travis Durfee

Questions That Bother Us So

Why is public comment at Albany Common Council meetings not in the meeting minutes?

The minutes are not transcriptions of everything that was said at the meetings, explained Albany’s city clerk, John Marsolais, but merely records of what transpired at the meeting, such as the text of legislation passed and how council members voted. The names and addresses of members of the public who testify are listed. Committee reports and other comments from council members are summarized to their bare bones. Though Marsolais didn’t say it this directly, it does make some sense that public comment ought not to be paraphrased or summarized for fear of misinterpretation.

All is not lost, however. Marsolais noted that any written copies of testimony turned in by those who speak in the comment period are kept with the files for that meeting. “It’s not like it would be tossed out,” he said.

On a more comprehensive note, the public comments are recorded, and Marsolais says he believes those tapes would be available under the Freedom of Information Law. In fact, while the meetings are taped in their entirety, only the public and the council president actually have microphones, so for now the council members themselves are not recorded verbatim anywhere. A fix for that is in the works, says Marsolais.

Committee meetings are a little less predictable. Minutes are more often than not provided by the committee chair to the full Common Council in writing, but some committee chairs “will just provide their own verbal record,” said Marsolais. Still, said Tracy Webster, the council’s legislative aide, written copies of public comment, at least, will be kept with the meeting minutes, and can be accessed by request at City Hall.

Why are the items on the Common Council’s agenda so vague?

If you pick up a copy of an agenda for an Albany Common Council meeting in advance, you may or may not have an idea of what will be voted on. The summaries of legislation that are listed, and read in the meetings, are sometimes so vague as to render the topic unidentifiable. Recent examples include: “An ordinance authorizing and directing the conveyance of all the right, title and interest of the city of Albany in and to a certain parcel of land in the city of Albany, New York, to the people of the state of New York at private sale.” (Would an address really be longer than “a certain parcel of land in the city of Albany, New York”?) Or “An ordinance amending article IX (building construction and regulation) of Chapter 133 (building construction) of the code of the city of Albany.” (To do what?) If there is no discussion in the meeting, these summaries may be all the public ever hears.

City Clerk John Marsolais said he knows of no particular reason for the vagueness, though he notes that the full detail of all the legislation is provided in a more detailed agenda to the council members for their caucuses, where the real discussion takes place, and the full text is included in the minutes. He did, however, acknowledge that if citizens don’t attend the council’s caucus meetings (usually the Wednesday before the regular Monday meeting and an additional half-hour on the day of the meeting, immediately prior), they may not be able to follow what is being voted upon.

The legislation, and the summaries, are either written by the corporation counsel’s office, based on memoranda from council members describing what their goals are for the legislation, or by council members themselves. Corporation counsel Gary Stiglmeier said he had not been aware that there was a problem with the summaries.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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