Dominick Calsolaro

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Common Council members and activists voice long-standing concerns with the Albany Citizen’s Police Review Board

Published on 3/23/2008 by Metroland written by David King

Alice Green told the Albany Citizen’s Police Review Board last week that they have no right to act surprised that the Albany Police Department has withheld civilian complaints from them, despite the practice being in direct violation of the wording and intent of the CPRB’s founding legislation, because she has been telling them for years that a number of citizens have been discouraged from going to the CPRB by the APD. Staying for only a portion of the CPRB meeting, Albany Police Chief James Tuffey announced that he had “a fix that should work for all of us” that would make sure the CPRB is notified of all complainants if not the details of all complaints. Tuffey proposed that the APD provide the CPRB with the contact information of all citizen complainants, even the ones who do not wish for their cases to be reviewed by the board. Although Tuffey departed before the public-comment period, a number of Albany Common Council members and citizen activists expressed agitation not only at the chief’s proposal but also with the board itself.

Common Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) made it clear that he felt the chief had no standing to make changes to the structure of reporting to the CPRB, and that it was a legislative matter. Ellis said the board should know better than to think the chief can make such a drastic legislative change. One of the original authors of the legislation, Common Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6), agreed with Ellis.

After the chief’s comments, board chairman Jason Allen announced changes he thought should be made to ensure that the board functions more effectively. First on that list was the chief’s suggestion about forwarding complainants’ contact information, which a number of the board members seemed to be hearing for the first time that night. Allen further suggested utilizing video cameras in police cars. He lamented not having enough hard evidence to go on to substantiate most cases, and suggested cameras would go a long way to rectify the situation.

Allen then went on to admonish an anonymous member of the board who had spoken to the Times Union. Allen drew the ire of two Common Council members. First, Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) admonished the Chairman for criticizing the anonymous board member for speaking his mind about the board, and asserted that any member should be able to speak about his or her concerns. He further noted that he felt Allen had overstepped his bounds by announcing his support of Tuffey’s proposed change without consulting all the members of the board.

Ellis, citing Allen’s complaints about a lack of “real evidence,” demanded of Allen, “Do you support subpoena powers for the board?” Allen indicated that he did not. A visibly frustrated Ellis wondered aloud how the board expected to secure evidence without investigatory or subpoena powers. Later in the meeting, Allen recanted his statement. However, a number of other board members began indicating that they would love to be granted more power, and they invited council members to make the needed changes. Calsolaro and Ellis both discussed the idea of creating a board with independent investigative power. Conti made it clear that it was time to review how effective the board can be in its current condition.

Green said that she is no longer sure there is anything in the board worth saving. “It’s not really a citizen’s board; it’s like a police board now. It’s come to that. Those of us who were hesitant about the board at first went forward with the understanding that it was going to be a work in progress. That is what we called it at the time. The first year we laid out key things that should happen, as the board was going to become a functioning review board. We talked about the power to investigate, mediation, all those things, and we haven’t gotten anywhere.”

Furthermore, Green said that the CPRB has simply become controlled by the APD thanks to a rotating cast of board members who are not familiar with the history of the board and who are spoon fed cases the chief wants them to see.

“The police department sees the board as their tool,” said Green. “If the police chief can decide what complaints are and when they get them, who can complain, whether there is standing to bring a complaint then everything he is doing is chipping away at the extent of what the board can do.”

Meanwhile, Mark Mishler, an attorney who was involved in the creation of the review board, told the board that he is representing a client who has alleged brutality by the APD, and who has signed a statement specifically stating that he did not want his case before the CPRB. Mishler doubts that his client came up with adding that phrase to his statement on his own.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that anybody goes to internal affairs with the intention of giving information to the Albany Police Department,” he said, “and already has it in their head they don’t want the complaint turned over to the review board.”

Currently, Mishler, Green, Ellis, and Calsolaro seem to be headed toward the same conclusion: The CPRB has become a farce, and they would like to see a new body with independent investigatory powers take its place. Said Green, “I don’t see how to save the board, and we’ve basically come to the conclusion it should be dissolved.”