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Capital Conversations: APD - Squashing Stigma

By Amanda Conley | May 6, 2024


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Writer’s Note: I hope you’ll read this piece with an open mind and heart, because my intention is to be hopeful and healing. I am addressing a controversial issue despite what I believe to be a divided and bitter community that we live in.

With the protests and political unrest that became prevalent in 2020, so many of us shared feelings of uncertainty. As one of the many people who obtained a majority of information on social media at the time, I was terrified; of COVID, for my friends who participated in the protests, and of the police. For me, 2020-2023 has been a time of distrust and fear. I was distrustful of the government’s intentions and fearful of the very people who were supposed to be protecting us from harm, brutality, or even death. It made me so sad to watch the videos of violence shared on social media, including the painful loss of lives that will be forever engraved in the minds of our generation; George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, just to name a few. 

So much of the truth about police brutality came to light on a national level during this time, and before I began to study journalism, I hated turning on the TV and seeing the news. I couldn't bear to flip through the channels after a long day only for it to bring the inevitable stress and dread into my life, which I suppose made me ignorant at the time. I realize now how important it is to get the authentic truth out. The truth is different for everyone, as we all have had different experiences, therefore I wouldn’t expect anyone to think the same as me or have the same point of view. To see through someone else’s eyes is difficult for some, so I only ask that you allow me a moment of your time to hear my story and consider my words. 

The Ride-Along 

On Oct. 25, 2023, I dialed the number to my local police station to schedule my first ride-along. It would be the first of many, although I did not know this bit of information at the time. After filling out applications and signing waivers, I set a date and time to ride along with the Albany Police Department (APD). At 11:40 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2023, I walked into the station, and after letting the front desk know who I was and why I was there, I sat on a long, wooden bench in an empty lobby. 

I watched as officers filed in behind the desk for roll call. As they stood together, they slowly began to notice me with tilted heads and curious eyes. The heat slowly crept up my neck as my cheeks became pink. I wrung my hands as they shook to conceal my nerves. I can still remember how nervous I was, my anxiety telling me I was trapped. As a woman, men in authority were usually something I tended to avoid, so that only made me more apprehensive. 

A short while later, the officer they paired me with came out to collect me and they suited me up in a bulletproof vest matching their own. We hopped in the patrol car and I immediately began asking them questions - starting with the simple ones, of course. 

Most of my questions started off pretty cliché; “why did you become a police officer,” “are you ever scared on the job,” “have you ever had to use your weapon,” “what was the training like,” and so forth. All of my questions were enthusiastically answered and while some

of the officers were unsure of me at first, I can confidently say that many of them opened up to me about their experiences on the job and welcomed me with open arms. 

Stereotyping and Stigma 

Something I feel is important to mention is the stigma surrounding the police. As I touched on previously, many people who I have spoken to or people I have come across on social media have negative views on law enforcement. Issues like police brutality fueled by racism, sexism, and other epidemics that plague the foundations of the nation are the reasons for civilians’ fear of law enforcement. While there is much to discuss on the topic of racism and sexism within the United States, I will be sticking strictly with the reputation of law enforcement in our city. 

As we all have heard about the lives taken due to police brutality and the unlawful actions done by those who are the epitome of upholding the law, it can be frightening for those who have never been in a situation where they have had to interact with the police. While I have never been in a predicament where I was in harm's way while dealing with law enforcement, I can say that I do not want to take away from those who have been in that kind of position. While I understand that not all law enforcement officers are like the infamous Derek Chauvin, the police officer who was convicted of heinously murdering George Floyd, this is not meant to point a spotlight at the police. However, I feel it is important to share that police brutality is real and evident in the world. 

In 2023, statistics show that at least 1,200 people were killed by police in the United States. According to data compiled from multiple records and databases, more people were killed by police in 2023 “than any other year in the past decade,” 97% of those deaths being via tasers, physical force, and police vehicles. What surprised me most about the statistics I found was that 100 people were killed after police responded to reports of an emotionally disabled person or a mental health crisis. Due to this, there has been increased training for officers in regards to mental health crises and keeping communities safer. The APD has implemented CIT (Crisis Intervention Training) when dealing with an emotionally disturbed person. Unfortunately, not all states have adopted this within their law enforcement agencies. 

Not only is there police brutality seen within our own borders, but also across the ocean. On Jan. 21, 2024, a french police officer was finally found guilty of brutally assaulting a young Black man with a baton after “a seven-year legal ordeal.” There was no sentence besides a one-year suspension and he was cleared of all other more serious charges, such as permanently mutilating the man. However, the APD officers I met with were far from this kind of activity. 

According to data from the New York Civil Liberties Union pertaining to statistics on the APD and its officers, the use of force and number of stops by race have only decreased since 2013. It displayed police misconduct data collected from 2013 through 2015 suggesting that the use of force reports have dwindled significantly throughout the years, and continue to decline. When discussing with the officers on how they perceived the scrutiny from the community during BLM and COVID, one officer mentioned their feelings on the subject.

“I wanted to be there protesting but it felt like I couldn’t because of the badge I wear,” she said. “No one likes police brutality - even police.”

It is easy to have a jaundiced point of view on law enforcement as a whole. It becomes natural to only see the negatives when this is the mindset that is consuming the internet. There are flaws in law enforcement as there are in all things. It can be scary when this is your only view of the people who are meant to be protecting you, the unpredictability of humanity and firearms become too great a risk. Their imperfections are rightly magnified due to the power they hold in their positions. Not that this thought process is completely untrue for some, but we need to also remember that these officers are human. This perspective is easy to have in today's age, and that is why it is so important to instill a positive relationship between the community and law enforcement. Without these personal connections, it can become conflicting. We need to embrace more than one point of view, putting yourself in the shoes of those who have been dehumanized, instead of listening to the videos on your “For You” page. 

Mental Health 

As you can imagine, police officers witness traumatic experiences every day. They nonchalantly revisit these memories, employing dark humor to cover up the horror that lies underneath. I felt shocked and humbled by the way they casually revisited the memories, using indifference to shield the true horror of their accounts. It made me further question the types of mental health awareness and relief that is offered to them on the job and how they compartmentalize after a tough shift. 

Some research finds that police officers report higher rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. Many of them mentioned a variety of self-care and self-regulation techniques they use to personally cope with the stress and trauma from their job. One officer mentioned that they watch a show or read a book. Some of the younger officers said they have gone to a therapist several times, whether offered by the agency or otherwise. Many among the older generation of police officers, however, confessed to not feeling comfortable reciting their experiences to a therapist.

“Many [officers] still don’t feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know about a job they don’t fully understand,” one officer stated. They told me that the squad feels more comfortable leaning on each other, “venting to friends who have the same experiences.” 

While it is hard to change personal views about something you feel strongly about, I feel we need to try to be understanding of others’ perspectives and points of view, especially when those who are meant to protect our communities are more often than not shunned by them. 

In The End… 

My experience on the ride-alongs was a mixture of thrill, intrigue, and horror. I witnessed domestic disturbances, theft, break-ins, domestic violence, street racing, and even death. The time I spent on the ride-alongs changed my world-view and forever shifted my mindset of the police. While the moments I experienced are negative to the public view, I find that these were some of my most integral life experiences. Some of you might be taken back by my mention of witnessing someone die while on a ride-along, but this just goes to show the real dangers in our community and the horror police officers face every day. While this is terrible, I look back on it now and remember the feelings of safety and understanding. I felt secure and safe from any harm with the squad I was paired with and they checked on me several times and explained to me that they understood the emotions I was going through: terror, sadness, and a strange sense of grief for someone I didn’t even know. 

While it was an experience I wanted to do again (mostly for more research and also because of how incredible it was), I was not able to return, supposedly due to the number of ride-alongs I joined. I felt as though doing three ride-alongs was not sufficient enough for the amount of information I wanted to collect, and I was frustrated that I was denied. While I can’t attend another one, I still appreciate the experience and thank the officers who offered me a lifetime of knowledge and life-saving information. As I mentioned before that I was scared at first to approach them, the officers made my time on the ride along delightful, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the criminal justice field or just wanting to see the Albany nightlife.


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