I live in Albany, NY. The mayor of Albany, Gerry Jennings, has a radio show he does once a week. He takes calls. Most calls are of the sycophant variety. Some ask for pot-hole fixes. Others are different.
This city has a long and glorious machine history. It seems to have changed a little bit over the last decade or so - the machine isn't the omnipotent monolith that it once was, but there are significant remnants that have managed to maintain their relevancy. One of those remnants is the Police Department in Albany.
Two weeks ago, on the mayor's call-in radio show, people started asking questions. I was one of those people. I asked the mayor if he could point to any incident over the course of the last eighteen months in which a policeman had been held accountable for his actions. As expected, the mayor filibustered a while, cut me off and hung up on me. Rather unexpected was his admonishment to me: "be careful".
I don't doubt his sincerity.
I'm a little scared.
But ya know what? I'm not that scared. In large part, my newly found courage has to do with the Metroland, an Albany alternative weekly, taking up the cause. I was shocked this morning to see this at newstands, restaurants and convenience stores throughout the capital district. If you click through, you'll read this:
A caller to Mayor Jerry Jenning's radio show asked him recently for "one incident in the last 18 months where an officer has really been held accountable." The mayor responded that several officers "aren't presently working" but that "it's easy to take these incidents and generalize about a department. . . . I have a fine police department. Do we have issues like any other organization? You're going to have issues. Are we going to deal with them? Yes. . . . So just be careful, and just be fair." Jennings added, "We've also had a police officer lose his life in the line of duty trying to protect the citizens here. Some people seem to just dismiss that."
In the chart on the following pages, we present a roundup of 15 incidents within the APD that have made headlines or caused citizen concern in the past 18 months. These incidents span a range of problems, and the response from within the department varies as well. Though APD spokesman Detective James Miller says that it's the media's fault that the public perceives a problem, ongoing discussions within community groups, local Web logs and government watchdog agencies may indicate that the public's concern is justified.
The caller quoted was, of course, me. For only the second time ever, I saw direct results from a call I made to talk radio. I'm not saying that the Metroland would not have run this type of article anyway, after all, 15 incidents in 18 months is kinda crazy... but who knows... if I hadn't made the call (and if others hadn't also called), maybe the Metroland would have thought the same as me - that nobody really cares about this stuff... that the public is accepting of "the way things are"... anyway...
Here are portions of the chart mentioned in the article. As you can see, we've had brutality, an innocent person killed on a city block when a couple of police officers decided to shoot wildly at a fleeing car, a fourteen year old girl punched in the face, and the Police Commissioner involved in a street fracs outside a bar. Nobody has paid a price.
Dec. 23, 2003
On the night Lt. John Finn was mortally wounded, police were called to Lark Street to break up a fight involving Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen and two men who had been harassing him and his companion. One of the harassers was injured. Nielsen's name was conspicuously absent from the resulting arrest report, even though any use of force by an officer resulting in prisoner injury must be recorded. The report simply stated that the man "was involved in a street fight with unknown parties."
The omission of Nielsen's role in the brawl on the official arrest report was never publicly addressed, as media attention was focused on the fatal shooting of Finn later that night.
Excessive force/ dangerous car chase
Dec. 31, 2003
Officers pursued a car that fled a traffic stop on State Street and set up a blockade on Lark Street. When the driver gunned the car in reverse toward an officer, two officers opened fire, continuing to fire at the car as it fled the scene. A bystander, David Scaringe, was killed by a ricochet. Car chases are not supposed to be pursued when they would be likely to put bystanders in danger. Officers are supposed to fire their weapons only if they fear for their lives.
"It would be preliminary and it would be wrong for me to say at this time that it was justified." -Police Chief Robert Wolfgang (TU, Jan. 2, 2004). "I'm not going to say our policy is wrong, but if [Chief] Bob Wolfgang feels we should fine-tune it, then we will."--Mayor Jerry Jennings, (TU, Jan. 3, 2004). "I don't see any reason for them not to return to work." -Mayor Jerry Jennings (TU, May 5, 2004) "It's a tragedy and we've made something positive from it." -Mayor Jerry Jennings (TU, Jan. 6, 2005).
The officers were on paid leave during the entire investigation. A grand jury did not indict them. After a private settlement, they received in- service training and job counseling; they remain on job-related-illness leave. After a few more car-chase problems (see below), the car-chase policy was studied and then was made much stricter. Better radio communication was installed to allow supervisors to call off chases, and the use-of-deadly-force policy was also revised to be more stringent. The city settled a civil lawsuit with the Scaringe family for a record $1.3 million.
SUNY Albany student Diego Jaramillo was allegedly severely beaten by three officers. Jaramillo and a group of friends were walking home through an alley on Hudson Street when they heard glass breaking and someone screaming "He's got a knife." Jaramillo ran when he saw a group running toward him. Officer James Olson found him under a porch and allegedly told him, "I'll show you for running, grunt!" Olsen then allegedly jumped on Jaramillo's back and began to beat him until Jaramillo lost consciousness. Officers Louis Aiossa and Melissa Ketzer allegedly joined in the beating. Jaramillo suffered a head injury, multiple fractures and lacerations, a deviated septum and a ruptured eardrum. Officers say Jaramillo ran and then attacked Olsen while he was being handcuffed.
"The DA went forward with the case [against Jaramillo]. That speaks for itself."-APD Spokesman Detective James Miller. (TU, April 2, 2004)
Lawsuit still pending.
The article has inspired me and given me courage. For a long time, I thought I was one of just a few people that had noticed the cancerous corruption in our city, and specifically, in our Police Department.
I had been commenting at Democracy in Albany with regards to this stuff, and the propietor and I had exchanged emails, but I really felt like this stuff is too dangerous to really expose myself - to come out publically. I'm a simple guy - I've got no ulterior motives; I just want good governement in my community. But now that the Metroland has published the story - and done an incredible job researching police scandals that have taken place in the last eighteen months... well, now I'm ready to go. I'm going to develop a presentation and go before the city council essentially reprising this article. The mayor has made some pretty stunning quotes, and they will be duly noted. There is an election in November. I pray that this stuff becomes a campaign issue.
semi cross-posted at my brand spanking new blog, The Beginning of Time