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Albany police: SWAT used poor black neighborhood for training because it’s ‘realistic’

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The chief of police in Albany, New York says that his department just wanted a “realistic” setting when it frightened residents in a poor, predominately African-American neighborhood with SWAT training exercises that included firing blank ammunition and exploding flash grenades.

On Thursday, Albany’s SWAT team shocked nearby residents when it stormed a public housing complex that was scheduled to be demolished, according to the Times Union. Photos circulated on Facebook over the weekend showed police in tactical gear, spent shell casings and fake blood.

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In a statement on Monday, Police Chief Steven Krokoff called the training “insensitive.”

“In light of the ever-increasing threats to communities across the nation, I have directed our department to provide the most up-to-date training in a manner that is as realistic as possible,” the police chief said. “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. We will review how we conduct our neighborhood-based training in the future and include the community in evaluating its appropriateness.”

Albany NAACP President Bernie Bryan wondered why police had chosen the housing project so close to a poor neighborhood.

“The folks in this neighborhood might not have the financial means, but are entitled to the same respect,” Bryan observed. “Whoever made the decision to do this was asleep at the switch.”

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One resident who asked not to be named recalled the ordeal to the Times Union.

“We wake up to the sound the next morning of literally small bombs,” she said. “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 four-year-old.”

The vacant apartments are scheduled to be demolished as part of a $11.8 million project to replace them with more efficient units, which is being paid for by New York’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.

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Documentary film maker Ira McKinley was organizing a demonstration for Monday at 6 p.m. to protest the training exercise.

“You can’t just take poor people and say ‘You’re going to do this and do that with them,'” McKinley told the Times Union. “We’re organizing to formulate our own citizen action group. We’re going to educate our communities.”

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The Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association is also meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday to give residents a chance to speak out. Chief Krokoff and Albany Housing Authority Executive Director Steve Longo had been invited but it was not known if they would attend.

Watch this video from WRGB, broadcast March 25, 2013.

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