Opinion

The Divide: Thanks to the Albany Police Department’s “Four Amigos”

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The Divide: Thanks to the Albany Police Department’s “Four Amigos”

When Chief Brendan Cox announced he was retiring this month from the Albany Police Department, it marked the end of the post-Tuffey era in Albany.

The era began in early September of 2009. Chief James “Jimmy” Tuffey resigned from the APD under a cloud after allegedly using a racial slur while discussing the killing of a white UAlbany student. The resignation came a few days before the mayoral primary between Mayor Jerry Jennings and Common Council Member Corey Ellis, a person of color. The resignation came after Deputy Chiefs Steven Krokoff and Steven Reilly and Assistant Chiefs Anthony Bruno and Cox retained an attorney to represent them in case of any retribution for their refusal to deny the alleged incident with Tuffey.

Chief Cox is the last remaining member of the group of four APD administrators (thus my referring to them as the “Four Amigos”) who were placed in charge of running the APD following the resignation of Chief Tuffey. The Four Amigos took over a department that was on the brink of a major crisis.  As was reported in the Times Union, Tuffey’s resignation “exposes a rift between the department’s command staff and the leadership of its patrolmen’s union, who accused them [the command staff] of working with City Hall to orchestrate Tuffey’s “execution.”

The group of four took charge of a department that was split over Tuffey’s resignation and upset about being used as a pawn in the mayoral primary, and also a police department that was seen by many members of the community as being out of touch.

Krokoff was named acting chief and Reilly, Bruno and Cox were designated as his assistants. These four men had to somehow bring a divided department together, reconnect the APD with the citizens it served and try and change the ‘culture’ of the department to bring about “community policing”. This was a huge task to undertake, and then throw in that all this had to be done while a “national search” was being undertaken to find the next chief, and the huge task could have become an impossible task. But, lucky for Albany, these well-educated, down-to-earth and approachable Four Amigos were up to the challenge!

The command staff first had to work with the rank-and-file members to close the divide between the department’s administration and the patrolmen’s union. The smooth running of the department depended upon the administration gaining the trust of the officers under their command.

Next, the Four Amigos recognized that for the department to be its most effective in making Albany a safe city, the divide between the community and the APD had to be bridged. The police and the citizens of Albany needed to work together and to trust each other if gun violence and gang activity was to be countered and the perception of Albany as an unsafe city was to change. To that end, the Four Amigos began to work on implementing a “community policing” philosophy in Albany.

To accomplish this, the Chiefs knew that they couldn’t work in a vacuum. They had to have buy-in from both the police officers on the street and the community at-large. The Chiefs established internal groups to work on protocols for the department to adopt as Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for community policing. They also put in place a group of citizens to get input from the community. This group was titled the Albany Community Police Advisory Committee (ACPAC). The committee consists of representatives appointed by each Common Council member, the Mayor, the Council President, at-large members and members of the APD. ACPAC acts as the link between the APD and the residents of Albany.

The Four Amigos also understood that community policing was more than just creating trust between the police department and the citizenry. It meant changing the philosophy that we can “arrest ourselves out of a problem” (just look at the ineffective “war on drugs”). That attitude simply did not, and does not, work. It meant that 21st-century policing was more than “cops and robbers.”

Community policing had to include acknowledging that social ills–poverty, single parent/grandparent homes, family members being incarcerated, hearing gun shots day-in and day-out in the neighborhood, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, etc.–play a role in the anti-social decisions people make. Community policing meant intervention beyond arrests to direct people to the services they need to help get them on a better path.  Community policing meant that working to correct social ills would lead to less crime in our community. So, the Four Amigos undertook this task in the face of opposition from certain members inside the police department and from external forces who criticized “touchy feely” policing.

I can say, and I know I speak for many other Albanians, our police department and our city are in a much better place in 2017 than they were in 2009:  Police officers and residents actually interact with each other; overall crime is down; homicides are down; people who need help are being diverted to services that can help them, rather than being placed in jail; and the perception that Albany is an unsafe place to live is fading away. Yes, we still have a long way to go to completely close the divide between the public and the police. There are still too many people who do not trust nor respect law enforcement and police officers who do not respect citizens. There are still areas of the city where gun violence is a major problem and neighbors frequently hear gunshots. But, we have come a long way from where we were in 2009 to where we are as we enter 2017.

I for one, want to thank the Four Amigos for their leadership in bringing Albany to this point in its history and I am hopeful that the future of community-police relations in Albany will continue on its current path to close the divide between us and them.  

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