Investigating the police
Published on 4/3/2008 by the Times Union
So, what's worse -- a police review board that goes six years without meeting, or one that can't do its job, as it should be done, when it does meet?
In Troy, Mayor Harry Tutunjian's office concedes that what it calls the strongest police department in the Capital Region's safest city could benefit from putting the unfortunately named Police Objective Review Committee -- think of that acronym, and all is implications -- back in business. The committee would be meeting again just as a special prosecutor is investigating allegations that two city police officers used excessive force in arresting two men.
It's worth asking just what the Troy committee might accomplish, though. Albany certainly provides an example of how not to go about reviewing potential police misconduct.
The Albany Citizens Police Review Board is so weak that it isn't even informed about multiple complaints against a specific police officer. The Common Council's determination to change that has it making a demand that should have been met when the board was created eight years ago.
Council members Dominick Calsolaro and Barbara Smith are demanding that the board be strengthened. It's critical that the board know if a complaint against an officer is the first one or if it's instead one more time an officer's conduct has been questioned.
Even if the law were changed, and Mr. Calsolaro and Ms. Smith were to win what would be a significant political victory, the police board still would be operating in the dark. Knowing that there's a cop on the force with multiple complaints against him or her isn't much of a substitute for know that officer's actual identity.
There's this problem, too. Not all complaints even get to the board. Police Chief James Tuffey says complaints don't have to be reported to the board, if the people making them don't want them to be.
Of course, more information about police officers is too much for Christian Mesley, president of the Albany Police Officers Union. To hear him, the problem isn't the police, it's the citizens who make complaints against them. He wants the Common Council to go after people who make false complaints against police.
The council, though, has more pressing business, namely to make Albany's police board more effective than Troy's. Then again, Troy's board might not be much more powerful in operation than out of operation. Just like in Albany, the Troy board has no subpoena power. It can't require civilian witnesses or police officers to testify.
The Troy police review committee was established, in 1997, for much the same reason the Albany board was created three years later. Citizens demanded it, especially those in the minority community. To deny those boards access to the information they need is as much a disservice to the public as not having any procedure for civilian complaints and civilian review.
THE ISSUE: Police review boards in both Albany and Troy need more power.
THE STAKES: If they can't adequately investigate complaints, what's the point? Political posturing?