Police officers at the University of Albany in New York say leadership is dissuading a proactive policing strategy ordering officers to limit arrests while also placing limits on the number of miles they can drive their patrol cars during a shift.
These directives, contend police and their union to the Times Union, result in fewer arrests, requiring officers to spend more time on foot in campus buildings and less time patrolling roads in and around uptown and downtown campuses.
The policies also prohibit officers from stopping motorists for violations such as holding a cellphone or driving the wrong way on a one-way street, officers and union officials tell the Times Union.
According to the Times Union, in addition to policing restrictions, officers must obtain authorization from an investigator or supervisor before applying for a search warrant or when making an arrest. Supervisors have the authority to also “un-arrest” a suspect or to reject a warrant request — even when it may yield evidence of a crime.
Campus police leadership argues there have been no changes to police policy.
- Frank Wiley, the chief of campus police since 1996, tells the Time Union the department “has always functioned within the community policing philosophy —this is not a change in approach.” Wiley attributes the campus’ policing approach to President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that “law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy.”
The Times Union reports the approach creates tensions on the small force and raises internal question about whether the restrictions represent an effort to keep down the school’s arrest numbers, which are publicly posted under federal regulations.
In addition, the Times Union reports the department has faced scrutiny from the state Inspector General’s office, which in 2016 investigated the handling of the death of an 18-year-old Elizabethtown College student whose body was found in the back seat of a car on the main campus in 2013.
The state official said Inspector General investigators interviewed several current and former members of the UAlbany police force while investigating the student’s death.
“The officers on the scene had a suspicion he had been in the trunk during the ride because there were so many of them in the car,” the official told the Times Union, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a state policy that prevents public comment on the matter. “There was a theory the kids took him out of the trunk and put him in the back seat and waited to call police.”
Department unrest stems from a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board filed by the union for the officers contending the patrol-mileage restrictions were instituted after the union filed a grievance over the poor condition of the department’s patrol vehicles, including bald tires, vehicles that would stall regularly and dashboard warning lights that would stay on permanently due to poor maintenance, according to the Times Union.
Wiley defends the policy that requires officers to drive less than 15 miles per shift if they were patrolling the uptown campus and no more than 20 miles if patrolling downtown areas near UAlbany buildings. The officers tell the Times Union the 15-mile limit equated to roughly four laps around the main campus road. Recently, the department increased the cap to 25 miles per shift on the uptown campus and 30 miles downtown because officers were routinely going exceeding the limit.
“Mileage restrictions are intended to increase positive citizen-police contact and to reduce the fear of crime through increased foot patrol and increased visibility in heavily traveled pedestrian areas,” the chief tells the Times Union. “The mileage restriction has a probable secondary benefit reducing the wear and tear on the vehicle fleet.”
An officer who spoke to the Times Union on condition of anonymity said that after the mileage policy took effect in February, a deputy chief listened to radio calls from his home and would instruct officers to “stop making traffic stops” and get into campus buildings. The officer said the fallout has been fewer DWI arrests and situations where officers feel unable to stop vehicles for infractions that might endanger pedestrians.
Some of the officers tell the Times Union the department is transforming their role into being “high-paid building security guards” rather than police.
In May, supervisors were told that patrol officers are no longer allowed to conduct stationary traffic details, such as speed traps, unless directed to do so by a lieutenant. When officers are allowed to conduct stationary traffic details, they are not allowed to stop vehicles for infractions such as cellphone violations or failure to stop unless authorized to do so by a supervisor, according to union officials.
“Traffic enforcement using a stationary patrol vehicle does not enhance visibility,” Wiley tells the Times Union. “It is therefore not encouraged.”
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