A PLEA TO PROTECT POLICE PLAN

Albany residents ask council to shield beat patrol plan from politics

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ALBANY -- Community residents called Monday night for the Common Council to intervene to protect the police department's nascent community policing effort, which they fear is being sabotaged by labor grievances filed by the police union.


The plea came on the same day that Police Chief Steven Krokoff learned the union has taken the city to court for allegedly violating the terms of 2008 contract arbitration by insisting police brass can shift the work hours of officers assigned to new neighborhood beat patrols.


The Albany Police Officers Union has won a judge's order requiring the city to respond to the union's allegations, but the full implications of that order were not immediately known.


Late Monday, Krokoff said he had yet to even see the document and had only been briefed on it in general terms by city Corporation Counsel John Reilly. He said the city has until Dec. 21 to respond.


'This is very out of the ordinary. We've never seen anything like this before," said Krokoff, who has overwhelming citizen backing for his bid to overhaul the city's community policing philosophy. "We're going to come out on top of this, anyhow."


APOU President Christian Mesley said the union is, for the first time ever, asking a state Supreme Court justice to sanction the city for violating the arbitration, which gave the police leadership narrow authority to shift the hours of just two units -- neither of which were the new Neighborhood Engagement Unit.


The court action is separate from several other labor grievances the union has filed against the city over the formation of the unit, Mesley said, emphasizing that the union has no quarrel with the shift toward community policing but refuses to let the department brass do so while violating police officers' contract.


"I'm all for it," Mesley said. "I walked a beat in Arbor Hill for eight years."


But Mesley's statements have not reassured those in the community who fought for Krokoff's appointment to chief in August and who have eagerly supported his agenda.


"I'm asking the Common Council on behalf of Arbor Hill to protect this plan," said Arlene Way, president of the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association.


Way and others were reacting to a report last week in the Times Union that the APOU has filed two grievances against the city, one of which police brass says directly contradicts one the union filed last year. Deputy Chief Stephen Reilly and Assistant Chief Brendan Cox also accused Mesley of admitting he filed the grievances to curry favor with his membership, which is voting this month to decide whether to abandon the APOU and its parent union, Council 82.


Mesley disputes that the grievances contradict one another and said his comments to Cox were misinterpreted.


Seizing on the other issue before the council Monday -- whether or not it should be legal for residents to keep hens in the city -- civil rights attorney Mark Mishler pointedly accused Mesley of cowardice.


"We are on the brink ... in Albany of something really big," Mishler said. "Hopefully, the Common Council will say, 'Backyard chickens, yes. Police department chickens, no.'"


While the Common Council appears to have no direct say in the matter, Council President Carolyn McLaughlin lashed out at Mesley and other union leaders, saying they have jeopardized the tenuous but growing trust between the department and residents.


"What he has done is not in the best interests of the city, and is not in the best interests of the police department," McLaughlin said. "We have to do everything we can to make sure people don't lose heart."


The council did not discuss what it might do if Mayor Jerry Jennings vetoes all or part of the budget it passed last week. That budget included restoring funding for Public Bath No. 2, a heated South End swimming pool.


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com