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Parade crackdown? Busts down from last year

May 1, 2015

by Newsroom Class

Police records provided to The Pine Hills blog this month revealed that the Albany Police Department cited or arrested fewer alleged miscreants this year on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade than they did last year.

The incomplete data provided to student journalists by the city shows that the supposed effort to enforce the city’s open container law and hold violators accountable, indeed, did not come to pass, records show.

Days before the parade this year, an event that attracts hundreds if not thousands of local residents to the city’s streets, the mayor’s office announced plans to be vigilant in the face of excessive public consumption of alcohol.

Some long-time parade participants said the new approach worked, even though the limited available statistics do not support the claim.

“It was quite successful,” said Paul Collins, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who has marched in the parade for 40 years.  “Was it successful because of the open container law or because the weather was lousy? I don’t know.”

The average temperature for this year’s parade was 38 degrees with .08 inches of rainfall, and the year before the temperatures hovered around 37 degrees with just a trace of rain, according to the National Weather Service. So, both days, the weather was cold, though with slightly more rain this year.

Collins said the parade got a bad name after the 2011 “kegs and eggs fiasco” when riot conditions broke out on Hudson Avenue near Quail Street, in the student neighborhood.

When the Pine Hills blog requested an interview with Mayor Kathy Sheehan to determine if she found the “crackdown” successful, spokesman Dennis Gaffney directed the student reporter to the police department because “they were the ones at the front line.”

The city also proposed restricted viewing zones near certain bars, and restaurants, serving alcohol, and those locations were semi-successful, according to Georgette Steffans, the executive director of the downtown Business Improvement District.

When the city provided records of police activity on parade day the department redacted information about the age, race, sex, address, and names of the individuals who were cited or arrested.  Ptl. Steve Smith said he would look into the reports.

Journalism students reporting the parade story filed a request for the reports under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. After the city returned incomplete reports, the students filed an appeal on April 29.

“I have said this to the public a thousand times, we don’t have private arrests in this country,” said Robert Freeman, the executive director for the state’s Committee on Open Government.

Efforts to file the appeal with the city’s Appeals Officer were complicated when the city clerk’s office directed students to an appeals officer who no longer works in the city’s corporation counsel’s office.

City clerk Nala Woodard on Thursday acknowledged he received the appeal of the initial Freedom of Information request and had directed it to Eric Sugar, an assistant corporation counsel at city hall.

In the appeal, Pine Hills reporters asked the city to provide the age, race, sex, address and name of each of the individuals who were cited or arrested the day of the parade.

That arrests have become a talking point of this annual fete is in itself problematic, according to many closely and tangentially involved.

“It’s not supposed to be a drinking fest,” Collins said.  “It’s supposed to be a celebration of Irish heritage and that’s what it was this year and Mayor Sheehan was happy with it.”

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