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albany times union: leadership questions remain for albany lead arrest-diversion program

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Leadership questions remain for Albany LEAD arrest-diversion program

By Eduardo Medina| via Albany Times Union

January 28, 2021


ALBANY – City leaders are planning changes in management for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program because of racial disparities in the way it is deployed, a move that has caught LEAD community partners off guard.

Brian Shea, chief of operations for Mayor Kathy Sheehan, stated in a letter to the Times Union that Sheehan is “disappointed with the program’s shortcomings” and will effectively take greater control of it.

“The Office of the Mayor will be taking a more authoritative role in the LEAD structure moving forward. This is not how LEAD was designed and in fact we anticipate resistance,” Shea wrote. “Beginning immediately, the City of Albany will be utilizing funds previously awarded to outside organizations to fully lead this effort in-house – with all functions from community outreach to day-to-day diversions to service outcomes answering to the Office of the Mayor.”

Sheehan and Shea could not be reached for an interview.

Up to this point, the LEAD program — which aims to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate low-level offenders — has not been run by the city. Rather, it is a partnership between different groups, including city police; the mayor’s office; the Albany County Sheriff’s Office; the Albany County District Attorney’s Office; the Center for Law and Justice; and the Albany County Department of Mental Health.

Some community members involved in LEAD were surprised to learn of the city’s plan, which they did not know about prior to being contacted by the Times Union.

“I can’t believe that,” said Alice Green, executive director at the Center for Law and Justice and one of the original stakeholders in LEAD who helped bring the program to Albany. “How can they take over something that doesn’t belong to them?”

Green said she signed a memorandum of understanding back in 2016 detailing the Center for Law and Justice’s role in LEAD, and she plans to continue to fulfill that role and work with other partners to improve LEAD.

“I’m at a total loss as to how the city plans on doing this,” Green said. “I don’t know why they don’t pick up the phone and say, ‘Alice Greene, what’s wrong here? What can we do to correct this?’ They’ve never done that.”

Critics of the LEAD program’s current state say Albany police are responsible for the program’s shortcomings because police control which individuals are recommended for the program. Data shows that since the program began in 2016, Black people account for 66 percent of arrests but just 34 percent of LEAD participants.

Community leaders involved with LEAD said they’ve been told by the city and police that more community outreach needs to be done so people understand the program. Those community leaders, including Paul Collins-Hackett and Dennis Mosley, have said it’s hard to do outreach when data isn’t shared and when the program may not even be utilized by many police officers.

Collins-Hackett said instead of the city getting “community members involved,” Shea’s letter seems to indicate that “we’re just going to do everything ourselves.”

“It’s politics over accountability,” Collins-Hackett said.

Shea’s letter states the city “is leading the effort with current LEAD partners to hire a new program director, implement a more robust data-collection program, and retrain all officers on the importance of diversions as a tool for more equitable and just community policing.”

LEAD was left without a manager earlier this month when Brian Hawley, a recently retired police officer, resigned from the post after five months on the job.

Before that, Keith Brown held the position from the program’s rollout in 2016 to November 2019. After his departure, the job was vacant until September 2020.

Brown could not be reached for an interview.

The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations and convening meetings between LEAD partners. The project manager also acts as a liaison between LEAD stakeholders and the Community Leadership Team, which currently consists of three members who act as a vehicle for community input, questions and accountability.

Many LEAD partners agree that filling the project manager post is extremely important and indicated that turnover in the position has been detrimental to the program’s success.

During the time when the project manager’s job was vacant, CLT members said they did not receive data from police about the program and found LEAD was disorganized.

“We weren’t making any progress with anything,” said CLT member Collins-Hackett.

Having someone in that project manager role, he said, “makes a huge difference for the Community Leadership Team” because there’s better management overall, as well as more effective communication with different groups.

When Hawley was hired, Collins-Hackett said, there was no arguing he understood LEAD’s mission. But what became concerning, he said, was Hawley’s attachment to his former employer, the police department. When the time came to hold groups accountable and get data, Collins-Hackett recalled asking himself, would Hawley help the CLT perform those duties?

“We never doubted Hawley’s character as an individual,” Hackett said. “We just knew he would be stuck in the middle and thrown to the fire.”

Hawley could not be reached for an interview.

Gabriel Sayegh, co-founder of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, a former LEAD partner, said it’s important for a collaborative project like LEAD to have a project manager whose experience and allegiance lies outside of a governmental organization.

“Once you have [the project manager] housed in a city agency, it becomes a city program,” Sayegh said. “You gotta have that separation there.”

If the project manager position is filled by a former police officer, he added, LEAD is “not going to work” because it will be “politicized and it’s not going to have any accountability to the community.” But he stressed police involvement in programs like LEAD is still crucial — just not in a managerial role.

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