The Albany Police Department is apologizing for its recent decision to conduct a SWAT training exercise in a poor, predominantly African American neighborhood in order to simulate a "realistic" situation.
Residents of the Ida J. Yarbrough Homes were violently awoken Thursday morning with the sounds of blanks being fired and exploding flash grenades in a vacant housing complex. Police claimed they went door-to-door to warn residents in nearby homes of their upcoming training, but many were caught off guard.
"We wake up to the sound the next morning of literally small bombs," said an anonymous Ida Yarbrough resident. "All you could hear was 'pop, pop, pop' of an assault rifle, police screaming 'clear!' — I really thought I was in the middle of a war zone — and I have a 4-year-old."
The empty housing complex used for training — due to be demolished — is only steps away from Ida J. Yarbrough and one other building filled with tenants.
Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff released a statement on Monday, stating, "I certainly did not mean to offend the very people that we are training to protect. In retrospect, it was insensitive to conduct this type of training in the vicinity of occupied residences."
In the days following the training exercise, photos of the incident went viral on Facebook. Bernie Bryan, president of the Albany chapter of the NAACP, visited the complex on Sunday and found shell casings and fake blood outside one of the units.
"Why they would choose to do it in a populated area makes no sense," Bryan said. "If they go half a block this way, there's a completely fenced in area with identical buildings. They could have done whatever they had to do and they wouldn't have terrorized or put anyone on alarm."
Krokoff said the department will review how they conduct "neighborhood-based training" after hearing from several residents who had no idea what was happening.
"I was in my house sleeping and the first thing I heard it sounded like grenades going off. Then following that, I heard like rapid gun fire," said a second resident. "I personally felt my civil rights were violated because I was hindered from where I need to go."
The media maelstrom that followed involved several residents picking up spent shells from outside their homes and showing them to reporters. This caught the attention of documentary filmmaker Ira McKinley, who publicly expressed his interest in forming a citizen action group to teach police and fellow Albany residents alike about the culture of poor communities.
As a response to the turmoil, the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association met on Monday evening to give residents a chance to talk about how the incident affected them. Krokoff was invited to attend, but residents were unsure if he would attend.
"The folks in this neighborhood might not have the financial means, but are entitled to the same respect," Bryan said. "Whoever made the decision to do this was asleep at the switch."