Albany report says flow of information is needed to win war for the streets

Section: Capital Reg,  Page: D1

Date: Sunday, August 15, 2010

ALBANY -- Residents want to trust their police officers more.

Everything else they want -- to feel safer and believe claims of declining crime, to see nuisance problems end quickly and with concern, to speak to police without fear of retaliation from criminals who they view as the true power brokers in some neighborhoods -- will flow from an increase in trust.

That's the theme of 25-page report from the Albany Community Police Advisory Committee, a 19-member citizen panel charged by Chief Steven Krokoff and his top commanders with drafting a road map to bring city police closer to the people they serve.

The report, delivered to the Common Council on Wednesday, is the first move toward fulfilling a promise Krokoff made even before he won the chief's job: To intelligently overhaul the department's philosophy toward so-called community policing.

The report mainly deals in generalities, setting benchmarks that will require police brass to draft new standard operating procedures, social and cultural training regimens and -- in some respects -- change the department's institutional culture.

They include:

Creating an atmosphere of mutual respect among community members and police;

Utilizing fair police tactics;

Improving officers' attitudes;

Developing and implementing training for the community the police department based on healing wounded communities;

Utilizing appropriate tactics and resources to deter criminal activities throughout the city and examining each neighborhood for appropriate needs.

The latter of those may be significant if the department hopes to get neighborhoods across the city to buy into the plans.

Some uptown residents have expressed concerns that an increased focus on community policing might leave their relatively low-crime neighborhoods lacking police presence, something Krokoff promises will not happen.

"I'm not going to pull the resources that I have there," he said.

From the start, Krokoff was adamant that the new policing philosophy would mean more than just returning police officers to neighborhood beat patrols and will require drafting unique plans for each neighborhood.

Simply putting officers on neighborhood beats and calling it community policing, Krokoff said on Saturday, fails because it turns forging close ties with the community into a crime-fighting tool when in fact it should be the subtext to everything the department does.

"We never employed community policing as a philosophy," Krokoff, a 17-year veteran of the department, said. "We employed it as a strategy. Community policing is not a policing strategy."

Krokoff, who was sworn in as chief by Mayor Jerry Jennings last month, said the next step is to distill the committee's recommendations into a strategic plan that he and his top commanders are currently drafting.

That document will help the department accomplish much of what the committee's report envisions within five years, Krokoff said.

"There's a tremendous amount of work," he said, "and that's our job." To help, Krokoff has recommended that the committee stay together and continue to monitor the department's progress.

The report also acknowledges that citizens themselves have role to the play in the process -- including supporting police when they're doing their job and being willing to communicate the community's needs to them. "We're all in this together. It's not us and them, it's all of us together," said Paul Stewart, a resident of the Delaware Avenue neighborhood who served on the committee. Stewart said one of the biggest challenges is going to be engaging those communities in which past negative experiences with the police have become ingrained in their culture and creating "a framework where those folks will feel included as well in this journey -- in a positive way."

In Stewart's view, the report's biggest contribution may be that it exists at all and represents a dramatic change in how the community has been included in shaping the city's policing philosophy in years past.

"Something like this has never been seriously considered in the past," Stewart said. "The fact that this is done, it's done publicly, it's done in writing, is a tremendous change from what was done before."