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ALBANY – The city’s Community Police Review Board intends to ask for an increase in both abilities and finances as it tries to adjust to its expanded role.
In a recent letter to the Common Council, the board indicated it intends to ask for revisions to the legislation that granted it a larger role in overseeing and investigating complaints of police misconduct.
In a presentation to the council last month, the board said its requests will come down to additional funding, access and control over information.
In November, city voters approved a referendum that gave the board a much more active role in handling complaints about police misconduct. Prior to that, the board could only review the department’s own investigations. The law also tied the board’s budget to the equivalent of 1 percent of whatever the city police department’s budget is for the year.
“Local Law J was a huge change,” board President Nairobi Vives told the council. “It changed the way we work and what our work looked like.”
But the board has come to realize it is limited in its current form, leading to a backlog of cases and the risk of failing to fulfill its mission, according to Vives and other board members.
One of the largest requested changes will be funding to hire more staff. The all-volunteer board currently has one full-time paid staff member and has not been able to hire investigators. Vives noted that some cases involve as little as 20 seconds of video footage to review, while others include as much as 30 hours of footage. One case the board is reviewing involves 300 hours of camera footage.
Vives pointed to Rochester’s police review board as an example of what the board hopes to reach. Rochester’s police department is roughly twice the size of Albany’s department and their review board’s budget is around $5 million, Vives said. Based on that, Albany’s review board budget could be in the neighborhood of $2.5 million.
“We need to hire and train investigators,” she said. “That part of the work costs a lot of money.”
Those investigators would be responsible for examining complaints and the surrounding evidence and overseen by an executive director chosen by the board.
In addition to more staff, the board is asking the council to codify that the review board has the same access to city police information about an incident regardless of whether a community member has filed a complaint, or the board opens an investigation on its own.
The board also wants unfettered access to the department’s investigative file for an incident and language that would spell out that any police employee who doesn’t cooperate with a review board investigation would be charged with misconduct.
Other clarifications would lay out due process protections for officers who are subjects of complaints. The board also would like to be the final decision maker in discussions on what information should be considered confidential or otherwise protected against disclosure.
Vives wrote that the board intends to follow up with more exact legislative language for the council to consider. The changes are likely to draw opposition from the city’s police union.
Lt. Josiah Jones, who leads the police supervisors’ association, said the request for a larger budget was among the changes the union tried highlight before Local Law J’s passage.
“This is exactly what we were trying to warn taxpayers about,” he said. “This is a large cost that’s being thrust up on the taxpayer without their informed consent.”
Jones said the board is overreaching by requesting the ability to open an investigation if no complaint has been filed.
“It mitigates our ability to do our job confidently,” he said. “Police officers are going to be less proactive because they might be unfairly punished if they don’t do something perfectly.”
Jones reiterated that the union was approaching the review board with an open mind and welcomed oversight. It did have concerns about whether some changes would need to be collectively bargained and if they would violate an officer’s due process rights.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan will release her 2023 budget proposal on Oct. 1.
Steve covers the city and county of Albany for the Times Union. He previously covered police, fire and accidents as the paper’s breaking news reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-454-5438.