ALBANY — The Tuesday conviction of a former Minnesota police officer on murder charges gave some closure in a case that led to massive protests across the country, but the conversation on police reform sparked by the shocking video of that murder continues nearly a year later.
Even though the George Floyd murder occurred more than 1,000 miles away from Albany, it reverberated around the country. During a Tuesday-morning Albany City Commission meeting, Commissioner Jon Howard requested that police keep an eye on the Pine Avenue Government Center in case there was a reaction to the verdict.
Earlier this year Dougherty County Commissioner Anthony Jones made an impassioned speech during a meeting describing how watching the video footage had affected him.
Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was shown in video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for some nine minutes, was convicted on counts of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.
Locally, the Albany Police Department also is inviting dialogue on how it can implement police reform.
When there is a high-profile case such as an officer-involved shooting, officers discuss it and dialogue about how they would react in a similar instance, Albany Police Chief Michael Persley said.
“When there’s a situation (that) happens around the country, we look at those,” he said during a Thursday virtual news conference. “The easiest thing is to do a ‘what-if.’ You never know what you will encounter.”
Over the last year, some city commissioners and members of the public have addressed the topic, with one of the areas of contempt centering around “sagging pants” and a mask ordinance. Opponents of the Albany ordinance said the ordinance overwhelmingly targets minorities, and the enforcement of minor “lifestyle infractions” can lead to situations that escalate.
Ultimately, commissioners voted to leave the sagging pants ordinance in place and to enact the mask ordinance.
Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana is an issue that also has been raised.
Whether it’s a traffic stop or encounter with someone wearing sagging pants or not wearing a face mask during times an ordinance was in place, officers are taught to minimize the possibility of a minor incident turning confrontational, Persley said
“The number of bad encounters we’ve had is minimal,” he said, “It’s really about how you engage the public. The number of cases we have on a daily basis are generally non-confrontational.”
During a traffic enforcement campaign last week, officers stopped more than 100 drivers, issuing warnings and citations, and those were performed in a professional manner without incident.
In minor marijuana cases, officers do not make arrests, the chief said.
“(If it’s) a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, you get a citation,” he said. “You go home. You see somebody with sagging pants, we try to explain to them.”
The same was true of the mask ordinance. Persley explained earlier this year that officers were instructed to inform violators of the ordinance and provide a mask to wear.