Albany Community Task Force on Policing: Final Meeting

After nine months of collaboration, the members of the Albany Community Task Force on Policing met for their last discussion on Tuesday, February 15th. The focus of the Task Force’s meeting was finalizing their Public Safety Report Initiative Memorandum, a document that will be submitted to Albany City Council that contains their recommendations for a ‘re-imagined’ public safety system in Albany. 

The items yet to be finalized that were discussed at this meeting included details about dispatch, and the involvement of the fire department in the Crisis Response Team. 

Member Matthew Hamity pointed out the exclusion of certain services in the document. At the time, only the police department and the Crisis Response Team had been placed as locations for calls to be rerouted to from dispatch. Member Gregory Downs, followed by the entire Task Force, supported the addition of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the fire department to the list of services dispatch could redirect calls to. 

Councilmember Ge’Nell Gary brought up the idea of special training for dispatch staff members that would “allow them to properly distribute these calls in this dispatch function.” She added, “There needs to be some type of language to specify that in the document.” There were no objections to the suggestion of training, so an addition of required training was added to the Memorandum. 

Another main issue was the staffing of the dispatch call center. Member Tom Newton questioned who the calls from the public were going to, which at the moment was someone from the police station. The Task Force continued this discussion, deciding whether dispatchers should be  associated directly with the police or with a separate body. Member Toney Wright brought up the core values of the Task Force and discussed redirecting resources to where they are most needed for community safety.

“Rather than have this bloated police budget, we shift some of it over to the fire department. All we are doing is shifting it into a space where we believe that more proper training would probably take place, versus this enforcement type of training […]. If we move it to the fire department, we still would have to give them additional training, but the culture would change from being an enforcement type of culture to a culture of service,” Wright said.

The Task Force agreed with Member Wright, and settled on the idea of moving dispatch over to the fire department.

Through a public comment, the concern of the individuals who currently staff the police  dispatchers was mentioned. The commenter believed that the current dispatchers would be fired and new ones hired as they switched over to the fire department. Newton shared this concern, however it was clarified that dispatch was simply being moved, but retaining the same workers.

Following public comment, the vote to submit the document was unanimous. 

Councilmember Gary adjourned the meeting with a send-off in which she thanked members for their dedicated service.

“I would like to thank all members on the task force that [were] able to participate these nine months. I appreciate your hard work, I will miss you all, and I hope you have a good evening,” Gary said.

–Kesenia Goldstein

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