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Albany Mayor Weighs In On Crime Spike, Tiff With Police Union, Guardian Angels’ Arrival

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

It's been a busy month so far for Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas sat down with the mayor at city hall.

As a cycle of summer violence gripped downtown, a Times Union editorial cartoon circulated on social media infuriated some residents of Arbor Hill, who gathered with neighbors in a park Sunday afternoon, joined by Mayor Sheehan and Acting Police Chief Robert Sears. The mayor made a tearful plea for help. That spurred some New York City's Guardian Angels, a citizen-led crimefighting team that patrolled Albany streets during a similar crime wave in the 1980s.

Police spokesman Steve Smith offered these numbers: "So far this year, the Albany Police Department has recovered 47 crime guns off the street. From pro-active stops and other incidents they've been able to arrest 37 people involved in crime guns as well." 

Sunday night, the Albany Police Officers Union published a scathing post on Facebook, criticizing Mayor Sheehan and local anti-gun violence group 518 Snug. The post was eventually deleted, Sheehan herself employing social media to give a response while declining to discuss the matter with the press. Sears apparently reached his tipping point, lashing out at the union, which Thursday issued another statement saying it backs everything mentioned in the deleted post. That post no longer appears on Facebook.

Tuesday morning, Sheehan gathered with other mourners at St. Mary's church for the the funeral of 25-year-old Dean Johnson. The off-duty Albany police officer was killed in a motorcycle crash in the Albany County town of Knox.  "It's very unfortunate that we've seen the uptick in crime that we saw. During that period of time the city still has other needs, and losing a young, very promising member of this police department on the 4th of July has been very, very rough. My heart goes out to his family, to his fellow classmates who he spent all that time with in the Police Academy and to the entire department. And so, yes, it's been challenging but we've got to continue to lead, we've got to continue to be responsive, and to make sure that people know that we're here for them and we're going to continue the work that we're doing."

That night, the Guardian Angels, led by founder Curtis Sliwa, appeared on the streetcorner of one of Albany's toughest neighborhoods.  "You have the heat and local folks in the streets beefin' or behind closed doors. You also have guys who've been released from prison who've decided rather than go to other parts maybe form where they were originally from, they settle in Albany. And then you always have that pipeline from Brooklyn and the Bronx up the New York State Thruway, which has affected communities all throughout from Kingston to Albany to Utica, right on out to Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo."

City officials say the Angels are not welcome and could hurt their effort to heal the community. Individuals who identified themselves as community leaders reportedly told Sliwa his services weren't requested and weren't needed.  Sliwa says residents were supportive after the TV news cameras were turned off, and he signed up three people to begin a new Albany Angels chapter. He added the group will return Tuesday to continue to recruit and patrol.

Wednesday, Sheehan and Sears attended a Common Council caucus in city hall, where they discussed the crime wave.  Sheehan says she is proud of Sears, the officers he leads and the city's community policing effort. "We know that this isn't something that law enforcement can solve on its own, it's not something that the city can solve on its own. We have to work together with the community. And what's come out of these recent days I'm very encouraged by. I've met with our common council members. We've had great ideas about additional things that we can be doing in our parks, for example. We're working right now on getting information together that we can make available in neighborhoods, at popup events, in barbershops, wherever people are about all the different job services that are available that can connect people to jobs, as well as all of the city services that are available so that people know how to get a hold of us and reach us if they have issues in their community."

Frequent Sheehan administration critic Judd Krasher is a former Common Council member.  "The process to build trust within a particular community in a city and the police department is complicated and it takes a while. And let's be real. Over the past several years there have been major incidents in the city of Albany where members of the minority community in the city of Albany have rightfully had their distrust of the police department grow. One key example: Dontay Ivy was murdered by the Albany Police Department. Period. That issue was never properly addressed by the city's administration."

The city settled with Ivy’s family for $625,000. The mentally ill man with a heart condition died after being tasered by Albany police in 2015.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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