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Police Review Board weighs complaints

April 12, 2011

by Jaclyn Evans

Two officers involved in an incident at the Playdium Bowling Center were found innocent Monday of accusations made against them to the Office of Professional Standards and the Albany Citizens’ Review Board.

A complaint filed against the officers after the Feb. 4 event involved an Albany police officer and an Albany County Sheriff who allegedly told a young man outside the bowling alley to pull up his pants in the presence of a woman, The complainant claimed the off-duty officers chased him in the parking lot, pushed him and cause him to fall and break a tooth.

But at Monday night’s regular meeting of the Citizen’s Police Review Board, the board concurred with the finding made by the Office of Professional Standards and the officers were deemed innocent.

The board also reviewed a complaint made in September of 2005 by an Albany citizen seeking a taxi cab medallion. The

Board members (from left to right): Hammond, Yeboah, Smart, Kelly, Sarfoh, Potenza, Phelan (Jaclyn Evans)

complainant said that when he asked a police officer how to obtain the medallion, the officer lied and made discriminatory comments, and told the citizen the economy did not need any more cab drivers.

The complainant eventually received his medallion and withdrew his charge after the Review Board contacted  the police department.

Since May 10, 2011 there have been six new complaints, each of which were reviewed by the board Monday.

Formed in 2000 on the base of an incident that took place in the city, the Citizens’ Police Review Board now tries to improve communication between the police department and the community, to increase police accountability and credibility with the public, and to create a complaint review process that is free from bias.

Members of the board meet once a month to discuss complaints that have been filed against Albany’s Police Department. Chairman Rev. Edward B. Smart, elected in January of 2011, reviewed cases Monday with six of the eight board members. They were: Anthony Potenza, Andrew Phelan Jr., Marilyn Hammond, Lilian Kelly, Akosua Yeboah, and Eugene Sarfoh. Absent were  Jason S. Allen and James Frezzell.

“This particular year I was nominated and with the assurances and support of the other members of the board, I have taken and tried to provide some leadership for this blue ribbon panel of people in the community,” said Smart.

Rev. Edward B. Smart (Jaclyn Evans)

This board is well rounded with a mix of both male and female members who do not own a fear of confrontation. Many cases were met with both supporting and opposing arguments. There was little consideration for time and the most consideration for diligence and clarity in discussing each complaint.

Since 2000, 436 complaints have been closed. Each case is reviewed fully and thoroughly by the board and is often sent back to the Office of Professional Standards for additional evaluation. “No complaints are tossed out,” said Smart.

The board members, appointed by either the Mayor’s office or by the Common Council, take an oath to do their best and follow the procedures and the law.

Akosua Yeboah, a board member since 2010, said, “We also do a ride along with the police officer to see what they do when they do their job.”

During the meeting, an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union from the University at Albany presented to the board several suggestions to improve the board’s communication with the public. One suggestion included better advertising in the Capital District.  Smart reassured the eight-person audience that the board makes frequent college visits as well as distributes pamphlets in both English and Spanish throughout strategic city locations. The board also has a standing committee that meets regularly with neighborhood associates.

“This board represents the true make-up of the city of Albany,” Smart said.  “We believe that we are not looking to find

GWU Teen Center Conference Room (Jaclyn Evans)

something wrong with our finest. What we are attempting to do is to bridge the gap and bring a very peaceful understanding of the duties of officers and their commitment to those whom they serve.”

Information on how to file a complaint can be found on their website,www.albanylaw.edu/cprb. The next meeting will be held Wednesday May 18, 2011 in the GWU Teen center Conference room. -30-

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