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Guardian Angels Returning To Albany Tonight Amid Summer Crime Wave

Crowd joins hands in prayer circle at Arbor Hill community meeting July 15, 2018.
Crowd joins hands in prayer circle at Arbor Hill community meeting July 15, 2018.

After the latest violent death, there are increasing calls for action as the city of Albany grapples with one of its bloodiest summers in recent history.

Longtime anti-gun crusader Pastor Charlie Muller shared his concerns with WAMC July 10th.   "We've had more shootings on that corner. More shootings on that corner than any other individual place in the city."

By Saturday morning, there was an overnight shooting at First and Quail, the city's third homicide of July.

Tom Hoey is a Common Councilor from the 15th Ward.  "We have a spike in crime. There's been eight murders this year and all of last year we had eight. Some people are saying 'Well, we've gone through this before and we've had even more murders in the past,’ but I don't wanna think about the past. I want to think about the future, and we need to cut this down."

A second community meeting to address gun violence held Sunday in a public park in Arbor Hill drew a larger than usual crowd. Albany state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy was there. The Democrat says ministers and community leaders "begged folks to work together on this."    "I live here in Albany. This is a community issue. This is a city issue. This is a Capital Region issue and we need to come together because it impacts all of us."

Also on July 10th, a contingent of Guardian Angels arrived in Albany to a mixed reception from the community. Angels' founder Curtis Sliwa says they’re coming back.   "Tonight the Guardian Angels will be returning from New York City. We're gonna focus on the South End in terms of our patrols and recruitment. But most importantly, we're meeting with about a dozen local young men, young women, adults, who have stepped forward to say that they wanted to join the ranks of the Guardian Angels and form an Albany chapter so that we'll have a permanent presence."

Sliwa thinks locally-based Angels might appease "community leaders."   "There's no doubt we're outsiders, but we bring the expertise."

He intends to meet with Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who warned a week earlier that the Angels’ arrival could disrupt progress, adding the group hadn’t coordinated with city hall.  "You're not getting any money from a missing-in-action governor who's too busy running for re-election. You don't have enough cops. So how could you turn down this offer? It's not going to cost the taxpayers any money, bringing in a volunteer effort of Guardian Angels to structure a local group that you would be in constant communication with."

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fahy says there are no easy answers.   "And this is going to take work. I did remind folks I'm from Chicago so I've seen where if we don't get on top of things... it's just important that we do find some solutions."

Sliwa vows to return to Albany once a week until the local chapter is trained.  "I gotta tell ya, returning to Arbor Hill and the South End for me is like a scene out of the “Twilight Zone.” I'm looking at a lot of the same faces and places and problems that existed in the 80s and it's now 2018."

The Common Council discussed the crime wave during its meeting Monday. Again, Tom Hoey:   "There was a call from Owusu Anane that he wanted an emergency public safety committee meeting. I'm on that committee and I kind of agreed with him, but the chair was on vacation for one or two weeks and they feel that we don't need to have an emergency meeting. What was said was 'having people sit around a table isn't gonna solve any of the problems.'"

Hoey says many of the councilors think the community should come up with a solution.   "That we shouldn't be doing 'top down.' But then there's other members like myself who feel there should be input from the common council and the mayor's office, working with the community. But it's not just a community problem, it's a whole city problem."

Hoey emphasized the police are shorthanded, looking to sign new recruits to bring the force up to full strength, approximately 350 officers. The council passed a resolution to raise the chief’s salary by $12,000 to $145,000 a year. The mayor has established a panel to interview candidates as the city hired a new chief.   "We looked at the salaries from different communities to get somebody that's really qualified. Being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the person deserves more money than we're offering. We have to be competitive."

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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