Public has say in chief's search
Albany residents say next police head must bridge "disconnect" with public
Published on 12/4/2009 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer
ALBANY -- Residents want the next police chief to have proven experience in community policing, to be "culturally competent" and to be able to bridge the disconnect not just with neighborhoods where officers are viewed suspiciously as an occupying force but with rank-and-file members of a department suffering from depleted morale.
That was the message to the eight members of the unprecedented panel charged with finding a successor to former police Chief James Tuffey, whose abrupt September retirement has left the 328-member force leaderless for three months.
But some of the most poignant advice was for the task force members themselves, coming from 46-year-old West Hill resident Jason Thomas, who urged them not to waste the opportunity to truly involve residents in a city growing tired of meetings and hollow promises with little action.
"We've got meetings about meetings about meetings," Thomas, a lifelong city resident, reminded the roughly 80 people who assembled at the College of Saint Rose for the public forum. "You have a great opportunity right now. You can show us that there is hope. You can show us that we can trust your judgment."
Among the crowd was Deputy Chief Steven Krokoff, the only member of the police command staff who has publicly declared his desire for the job.
Without exception, speakers urged the committee to zero in on candidates who don't just profess a desire for community policing but have a demonstrable record of producing it. Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro said it is imperative that the new chief to be "independent of the political structure in the city" so he or she is free to speak hard truths.
Mark Mishler, a civil rights attorney, and Judith Mazza, a charter member of the Citizens' Police Review Board, said the next chief not only must respect the complaint process that currently exists but work to improve it.
"The problem is not that there are a few bad apples, the problem is that there is no effective process for people to complain," Mishler said. "That does not exist and has never existed in Albany."
John U. Miller, pastor of the South End's United Church of Christ and chairman of the city's now-defunct gun violence task force, said several ongoing scandals lead him to believe the next chief must come from outside the city.
Miller praised the work of officers that have served his neighborhood but described the department generally as "terribly understaffed and underpaid" and said a "tremendous disconnect" between police brass and the rank-and-file has hurt morale.
Others called for the next chief to be able to deal effectively with the city's diverse cultures, including its active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. With that came admonishments to look seriously at minority and female candidates.
Retired Judge Larry Rosen, the task force's chairman, said the panel hopes to gather resumes through mid-January and ideally make a recommendation to Mayor Jerry Jennings over the following month.
But some speakers, including outgoing Councilman Corey Ellis, cautioned the panel not to rush and urged his council colleagues to, if necessary, exercise their new veto authority over the mayor's pick.
"Have the courage to stand up and say this person is not the direction we want to go," Ellis said.
Matt Blackmon, 25, a business student at Schenectady County Community College, asked the panel to take the discussion to the inner-city neighborhoods that rely on the police the most.
Task Force member Carolyn McLaughlin, also the Common Council's majority leader, agreed. "I don't see everyone in the audience that needs to be heard from. "I know we want to do this in a timely manner, but I don't want to sacrifice a good result," she said.