SUNY Officers, Union Condemn UAlbany Police Chief, Tactics

University of Albany police officers and the union officials representing them sharply criticized the department’s policing methods.

SUNY Officers, Union Condemn UAlbany Police Chief, Tactics

Members of a union representing New York campus police are criticizing University of Albany police tactics after board members unanimously voted “no confidence” toward UAlbany Police Chief J. Frank Wiley July 11.

Officials with the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, or PBA of NYS, say that UAlbany campus police officers are being discouraged from making arrests and claim that new policies are creating an unsafe campus environment.

“This is an issue of dedicated police officers challenging the leadership here,” PBA Director Dan De Federicis told twcnews.com. “The management and the administration is the weak link here.”

UAlbany Police Changes Denounced

Union officials have criticized a number of specific policies, many of which were implemented in the last year as part of a shift toward community policing, reports the Times Union. Specific criticisms are listed below.

  • Patrol car mileage restrictions initially required campus police to drive less than 15 miles per shift if patrolling the uptown campus and 20 miles per shift if patrolling the downtown areas near UAlbany buildings. Officers claim the 15-mile limit came out to approximately four laps around the main campus road. The department recently increased the cap to 25 miles per shift uptown and 30 miles downtown.
  • Officers and union officials claim campus police are not allowed to stop motorists for violations such as holding a cellphone or driving the wrong way on a one-way street. De Federicis said officers have been reprimanded for ticketing a vehicle going the wrong way down a one-way street.
  • Union officials claim officers must get authorization before making an arrest or applying for a search warrant, and that supervisors can “un-arrest” people and reject warrant requests.
  • Union officials claim the department prohibited vehicle stops on roads abutting and adjoining campus absent an immediate threat to the public.
  • De Federicis also said there’s no formal training on campus policing.

“I have never seen policies like this. These are just not best practices in policing,” said Scott Marciszewski, of the PBA. “It just appears like there’s so many obstacles placed before them.”

University, Police Chief Respond

UAlbany officials and Chief Wiley acknowledged the emphasis on community policing but defended that approach, citing recommendations made by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015.

“Good policing is more than just complying with the law,” Wiley said in a written statement to the Times Union. “Sometimes actions are permitted by policy, but that does not always mean an officer should take those actions.”

Wiley, who has worked in the SUNY System since 1996, also said the mileage restrictions were made to increase foot patrols, thereby increasing officer visibility and “positive citizen-police contact.”

In response to De Federicis’ criticism on the lack of training, UAlbany said in a statement that new campus police officers complete a 16-week field training program that teaches community policing. The training is run by officers certified by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice.

“University members also regularly provide training and education to department members,” the university’s statement reads. “Over the last year, presentations were conducted by members representing the LGBTQ, International Student, and Muslim Communities. In addition, the University Police Department was the first local agency to adopt a policy addressing interaction between transgender persons and police.”

De Federicis suggested the community policing tactics are actually an effort to improve the school’s image and lessen the burden of complying with federal regulations on crime reporting, likely referring to the Clery Act.

“There has to be some enforcement in community policing and UAlbany, I think, just to make their statistics look good and make sure their recruiting goes the way they want it to… has gone too far in the other direction,” De Federicis said.

An officer who spoke to the Times Union on the condition of anonymity says that after the mileage restriction, a deputy chief would listen to radio calls and instruct officers to stop making traffic stops.

“One officer was even told that a vehicle that he had stopped which was driving on a metal rim and shooting sparks from under the vehicle was not enough of a exigent circumstance and that he should not have stoped the vehicle,” the officer said.

New Policing Strategies Implemented

The shift to community policing represents a large change from the zero tolerance policy De Federicis says the school initiated after a scandal involving a massive off-campus house party in 2011.

Last year, the UAlbany Police Department faced scrutiny when the New York Inspector General’s Office investigated the handling of the death of an Elizabethtown College student on its campus in 2013.

PBA represents more than 1,200 members of the state agency police services (APS) unit that polices New York’s public universities and colleges, among other areas.

The University of Albany Police Department lists six members in its command staff, six police supervisors, three investigators, a sergeant and 23 police officers on its website in addition to administrative staff, communications officers and security services assistants.

Then University of Albany campus is 586 total acres and had a total enrollment of 17,280 in 2014.

 

About the Author

Contact:

Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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