Photo: SKIP DICKSTEIN, DG
ALBANY — Former city Police Chief Kevin Tuffey, who led the department during an often tumultuous period from 1995 to 1999, died Tuesday afternoon in Florida at age 70.
Police spokesman Steve Smith announced Tuffey’s death on Twitter. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time,” he wrote. Details including a cause of death were not immediately available.
Mayor Jerry Jennings hired Tuffey, a former State Police senior investigator, to succeed Chief John Dale with a mandate to overhaul the tradition-bound force and improve relations with the community.
The force’s accomplishments during Tuffey’s four-year tenure were considerable, including the opening of substations in minority communities, a popular community policing program and new management. But his years as chief were also was marked by a string of embarrassing incidents, including charges of sexual harassment at the highest levels, police brutality allegations against officers, union protests and reports of low morale.
Tuffey was the first outsider to run the department in more than a century. Police boycotted his swearing in, and former Albany Police Officers Union President James Galante called Tuffey’s hiring an effort by Jennings “to take care of his drinking buddies.”
“The turmoil comes from discipline,” Tuffey told the Times Union in 1999. “People don’t like change. Police officers don’t like change.”
In Tuffey, Jennings hired a friend and political ally who described himself as “1,000 percent loyal to the mayor” and vowed “I will do nothing to embarrass him, nor will I let anyone else do anything to embarrass him.”
Tuffey came to a department that a management consultant in 1995 described as having too many officers on desk jobs instead of on beats. At the mayor’s behest, Tuffey embarked on a decentralization plan, reopening the neighborhood substations closed by the department in the 1980s. A five-year-old community policing effort had beat cops working not only on crime but neighborhood quality-of-life issues.
The way police handled a 1998 brutality case served as an example of Tuffey’s get-tough policy. Two off-duty officers, Sean McKenna and William Bonanni, were accused of beating then-College of Saint Rose basketball player Jermaine Henderson after he was arrested and brought to the Morton Avenue police garage in handcuffs.
In a break with the city’s usual practice of standing by police officers accused of brutality, Tuffey immediately suspended McKenna and Bonanni and had them arrested. The officers were ultimately acquitted at trial.
Several months after the incident, the department announced several retirements and personnel changes, including the resignations of a deputy chief and an assistant chief. Although officials say their departure was unrelated to the Henderson case, both were involved in its early handling.
Months later, the union considered taking a no-confidence vote in the chief. It opted instead to hold an informational picket at City Hall, accusing Jennings and Tuffey of letting politics and personality clashes influence the force.
In February 1999, Tuffey made news over allegations that he acted inappropriately in an East Greenbush bar and was removed by a bouncer. Less than a month later, Jennings said an investigation by the city corporation counsel cleared Tuffey of any misconduct. The next month, the city missed its deadline to apply for a waiver that was required in order for Tuffy to collect his city salary as well as his State Police pension — prompting speculation that he was on his way out.
Jennings announced in September 1999 that he had accepted Tuffey’s resignation. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Tuffey said at the time. “Maybe it’s time to allow some other people to bring their ideas in.”
John C. Nielsen, at the time 27-year veteran of the department, succeeded him.
Tuffey’s younger brother, James Tuffey, served as chief of the department from 2005 to 2009.
Published at Tue, 26 Nov 2019 15:06:00 +0000