Police union says its relationship with leadership in UPD, university is broken
Following a series of claimed ongoing issues, the union representing police officers at the University at Albany contends that their relationship with leadership in the University Police Department and the university is broken.
The Police Benevolent Association has raised its concern with issues including the university’s handling of timely alerts for serious crimes, security at homecoming, active shooter training, and repairs for police vehicles.
These issues, the PBA claims, have either been denied or covered up by command staff and the university administration.
Referring to the areas of concern, PBA Executive Director and Counsel Daniel De Federicis said, “Command staff is doing the university’s bidding to protect the image.”
This statement on command staff follows a survey the PBA released last summer taken by its members who work at UPD. In the survey, respondents put forth a vote of no confidence against command staff—including Chief J. Frank Wiley and Assistant Chief Aran Mull.
Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated that they felt senior management in UPD is not interested in employee opinions and ideas.
With many respondents indicating that they are searching for other employment, a clear majority also conveyed that they felt the university has an inappropriate amount of influence over the department.
When asked for an interview, Wiley referred to Director of Media & Community Relations Jordan Carleo-Evangelist and Mull did not respond.
The university responded in a statement provided by Carleo-Evangelist, who wrote, “The members of the UPD command staff among them have six decades of service to the UAlbany community, and they come to work each day with the safety and well-being of students, faculty, staff and their fellow officers foremost in their minds.”
Seeking to address the concerns revealed in the survey, the PBA met with UAlbany’s Office of Human Resources several times. The PBA has since discontinued formal labor/management meetings, where Human Resources would address the union’s concerns with command staff among other issues.
Carleo-Evangelist wrote that the university is willing to meet with the PBA in formal labor/management meetings when the union is ready to resume meeting.
However, the PBA is now calling for a meeting with President Rodríguez because they believe that Human Resources is unable to effectuate change.
Referring to such meetings through Human Resources, De Federicis said, “Why would we continue to meet at a level that either refuses to effectuate change or tells us that we do not have valid complaints?”
The university has declined meetings the PBA has requested with President Rodríguez.
President Rodríguez has visited UPD to meet officers twice in his time at the university, once in November and once at the beginning of April.
De Federicis described Rodríguez as “engaged” and “genuinely concerned” in the president’s April meeting with officers, but said, “The relationship between the PBA and the leadership there at the police department and higher is still broken.”
Clery Timely Alerts
In several serious criminal incidents on campus in recent years, the university waited hours to issue an alert to the campus community.
Based on officers’ concern that the university is violating federal law requiring universities to issue timely alerts for such crimes, the PBA filed a complaint with the Department of Education last December.
In the complaint, De Federicis claimed that nine incidents violated the Jeanne Clery Act since UAlbany either didn’t issue an alert immediately or didn’t issue one at all.
De Federicis wrote in the letter that he believes the university didn’t issue notifications out of concern for protecting its image.
The Clery Act requires universities participating in federal aid programs to issue timely alerts to the campus community when the institution confirms that an immediate and ongoing dangerous situation exists.
In the case of a reported rape on Dutch Quad in October 2016, the university took over eight hours to issue an alert. The suspect was arrested around 10 hours after the incident occurred.
Following his December complaint to the DOE, De Federicis wrote to Rodríguez in January that he doesn’t believe the university can properly investigate the claimed failings of UPD’s command staff.
Command staff, who are not members of the PBA, make the decision to issue an alert along with university officials.
Rodríguez responded to the letter rejecting that the university took part in any “systematic effort” to violate the Clery Act, writing that safety and well-being of the campus community is the university’s “foremost concern.”
Rodríguez wrote that UAlbany would address the PBA’s allegations with whatever process the DOE requires.
After the PBA released to the public its complaint to the DOE, the university issued a statement saying they were in compliance with the Clery Act.
The university referenced this statement when it declined the Albany Student Press’ interview requests with officials, including Rodríguez, Chief Wiley, and Assistant Chief Mull, citing that they do not have anything to add.
The decision to issue the statement, Carleo-Evangelist explained, was made collaboratively between the President’s Office and the Office of Communications and Marketing.
Issuing an alert, according to the statement, involves “close collaboration among University Police Department command staff, the Office of Equity and Compliance and, when appropriate, other senior University leadership.”
In the statement, the university iterated its commitment to safety and transparency, stating that the university’s actions are consistent with the federal law.
Referencing the university’s statement, De Federicis said, “They’re publicly denying it, but they have to realize there’s a problem and I have to believe that they’re going to examine their procedures and change them.”
At the end of February, there was an armed robbery at the Mobil on Western Ave., called the “Campus Mobile.”
The two suspects displaying handguns ran onto University Drive in an unknown direction.
The Albany Police Department alerted UPD of this incident. The incident report, clarifying that the type of incident was assisting another police department, stated that the APD investigation was ongoing at the time.
Though the incident occurred around 1:40 a.m., UAlbany didn’t send out an alert until over two hours later.
De Federicis claims that this was not a timely alert because APD notified the university police department immediately.
The Clery Act handbook states, “A warning should be issued as soon as pertinent information is available.”
De Federicis sent details of this incident to the DOE in March as an addendum to his original Clery Act complaint.
In the addendum, De Federicis wrote, “Perhaps what is most disconcerting about the University at Albany’s most recent failure to issue a timely warning is the fact that this occurred even after the PBA provided SUNY Albany President Rodríguez a copy of our complaint to your agency.”
The DOE neither confirms Clery Act reviews or investigations nor discusses the status of cases. Once the DOE completes a review, it issues a Final Program Review Determination, which details the department’s findings.
De Federicis said he hopes the investigation is completed in a matter of months.
At homecoming in October 2017, a retired police officer and her 21-year-old daughter spent nearly half an hour navigating through crowds of young people in the Dutch Quad parking lot. After missing a significant portion of the game, Kim Zara and her daughter, Maria, returned to their car to find people sitting on the hood of her 2017 Lexus with their drinks.
Disturbed by this, Zara asked them to get off her car. They were unresponsive until she got inside and moved slowly out of the parking lot, when they followed her and made comments.
Zara detailed these instances in an emailed complaint to UPD on Oct. 23., which was included in a Freedom of Information Law request the PBA filed.
In an interview last week, Zara explained her concern with a lack of security staffing: “There needed to be more police presence, much more security, much more visibility because that was not there.”
Staffing for the event noticeably increased from 2016 to 2017. There was a six-fold increase in UPD staffing for the Dutch lot pre-game, and a 60 percent post-game increase.
However, De Federicis wrote to the chief at the Albany Police Department the day before homecoming to ask for help.
In his Oct. 20 request, De Federicis asked APD Chief Robert Sears to assign personnel to patrol parking lots during and after the game or to have patrols at the ready, citing his concern with staffing from fights that erupted the year before.
Earlier that day, De Federicis had spoken to UPD’s Chief Wiley, whom he described as “unaware” and “non-committal” on asking outside agencies for assistance.
Responding on Wiley’s behalf to a question of whether he contacted outside agencies, Carleo-Evangelist wrote, “UPD did not request, nor did it require, any assistance from outside police agencies on homecoming weekend.”
Sears confirmed last week that APD was not asked to send in help, though the agency was aware of homecoming.
After homecoming last October, university administration received a number of complaints.
One person wrote a letter to President Rodríguez detailing that when they left the game to go back to their car, a crowd of young people was congregated on the hood of their vehicle smoking and drinking.
For several minutes, the person was unable to move the vehicle because the students would not leave. A young man helped the distressed person since police officers were addressing other situations.
Describing their experience, the person wrote, “Being completely surrounded by drunk and high young individuals was a situation that could have been avoided if proper security was put in place.”
Addressing a separate situation, Carleo-Evangelist sent an emailed follow-up to someone who had called about repairing vehicle damage.
Carleo-Evangelist wrote that the attendee could be reimbursed for repair costs if they sent an estimate and final bill.
According to a Freedom of Information Law document obtained by the PBA, the estimate totaled nearly $700.
Carleo-Evangelist indicated that no state funds were used to pay for the car’s damage.
When pressed on where the money came from, Carleo-Evangelist wrote that the University at Albany Foundation “paid two claims totaling less than $2,500,” indicating that no donor money was used.
Administration responded to the complaints and request for reparation saying that President Rodríguez had convened a team to conduct a complete review of the events in the Dutch Quad parking lot.
One of the group’s recommendations is to change the tailgating policy such that tailgating would end when the game began.
Senior university leadership has been made aware of the team’s recommendations, who are expected to consider them before the fall season begins.
Active Shooter Training
Though the PBA has claimed issues with student safety, it also claims that command staff and the university have violated the article of their collective bargaining agreement that concerns safe working conditions for employees.
In a grievance last year, the PBA presented its stance that current active shooter training constitutes unsafe working conditions for UPD employees. The union asserts that it is unsafe for officers to not have trained with outside agencies and in the most likely location an active shooter would attack.
The grievance cited that in true active shooter situations, multiple police agencies respond.
The PBA’s statement of facts on the grievance also indicates that the yearly active shooter training is typically not on the Podium—the center of campus where the union says an incident is most likely to occur.
An incident in 1994 involved a shooter, Ralph Tortorici, who took students hostage in a Lecture Center hall on the Podium.
Command staff said that training location rotates, so the probability is that training happens on the Podium once every three or four years.
Human Resources denied the grievance last December, reasoning that the PBA failed to prove its claim through documents showing that the current training creates unsafe working conditions.
The denial of the grievance shows command staff’s claim that it contacts outside agencies to participate in active shooter training sessions.
Carleo-Evangelist wrote in an email, “Invitations like these are often conveyed verbally during the frequent conversations that members of the UPD command staff have with their counterparts in nearby police agencies.”
Acting Chief Robert Sears at the Albany Police Department indicated that the agency does not train at UAlbany.
Sears said that it could be beneficial for APD to train on campus, though he was unaware of UPD’s protocol in an active shooter situation.
“We’re never going to be able to train everywhere,” Sears said. “We would be open to it.”
The other agency that De Federicis claimed would respond at UAlbany in the case of an active shooter situation is the Guilderland Police Department.
Deputy Chief Curt Cox at Guilderland was unsure if the department trained at UAlbany, but indicated, “Familiarity with any place is beneficial.”
Advancing their concerns with officer safety, the PBA alleges that the university again violates the safety provision of the collective bargaining agreement with the condition of police vehicles.
In January 2017, the PBA filed a grievance claiming that UAlbany had failed to replace vehicles that had issues with stalling, balding tires, and malfunctioning brakes. The PBA also cited vehicles having high mileage and dashboard warning lights that turned on.
The PBA wrote in the grievance that these conditions placed the safety of officers at risk and created the situation where an officer could be injured or killed.
In their response to the grievance, Human Resources cited that this claim was speculative, saying, “To-date no civilian or police grave injuries or fatalities have occurred.”
Human Resources denied the grievance, reasoning that vehicles are taken out of service and repaired when issues are reported to command staff.
A report of vehicle outstanding services shows that an officer reported a vehicle needed new windshield wipers in September 2016. Two months later, the same officer reported that the vehicle still needed wipers and that it is unsafe to drive in the rain.
In their response to the grievance, Human Resources also indicated that management purchased two new vehicles in 2016 and received funding to purchase two more in 2017.
The university’s administrative review through Human Resources is the first step in the grievance process.
De Federicis took the second step and sent a grievance appeal to the SUNY director of employee relations in March 2017 a couple weeks after the university denied the PBA’s initial grievance.
SUNY acknowledged receipt of the appeal and later contacted the PBA to agree to a review that included a hearing of PBA grievances in October.
De Federicis indicated that there were some improvements to vehicles after the grievances, such as more purchases and better repairs.
Referring to the grievance, De Federicis said, “They denied it, but we believe it was effective in calling their attention to the problem and the fact that this was a safety issue and they did improve the fleet notably.”
A couple weeks after the PBA filed the grievance, UPD issued a policy that placed mileage caps on how far officers could drive in a given shift.
De Fedricis said that, given the timing the caps were instituted, command staff was retaliating against the PBA’s vehicle grievance.
Chief Wiley told the Times Union last summer that the caps were intended to increase foot patrol and help with community policing.
In February 2017, the caps for driving on the main campus and downtown campus were 15 miles per shift and 20 miles per shift, respectively.
Last May, the caps increased to 25 miles and 30 miles.
The PBA claims that the university has made signs of initial effort to address these issues, but that their relationship with command staff and the university remains broken.
“We think the leadership of the police department is dysfunctional right now,” De Federicis said.
Consequently, the PBA is looking for the university to bring in an outside consultant to examine the claimed issues in UPD that extend beyond the DOE investigation regarding timely alerts.
Last year, SUNY New Paltz’s UPD brought in an outside consultant to address issues within their department.
The consulting firm D. Stafford & Associates conducted a three-day assessment of the safety and security practices within New Paltz’s UPD.
DSA returned a couple months later to hold a workshop that would help the UPD go forth and implement its objectives.
A planning committee formed by SUNY New Paltz’s university police then came up with short-term, midterm, and long-term projects to improve its transparency to the campus and its commitment to safety.
De Federicis believes that bringing in an objective, outside consultant to review UPD is a start to repair the “broken relationship” between command staff and officers.
“I view the command staff’s harmful effects on the police department and the police officers individually as the death of a thousand cuts,” De Federicis said. “You may not see it immediately. It may take a few years, but it’s happening.”