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Albany’s New Police Chief Will Start At Critical Time In The City

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

A new police chief has been hired as concerns mount over a summer spike in violent crime in Albany.

On Sunday, Albany Common Councilwoman Dorcey Applyrs joined others in a "A Walk For Peace" in the city's South End to a makeshift memorial at the place where 32-year-old Elijah Cancer was shot dead earlier this month.   "This is a community crying out, not just for peace, but also for solutions and for individuals in our community to lay the guns down and not use guns as an option. There were people of course expressing their frustration, some who are scared and then others who are very hopeful that with the right organizing, bringing the right people to the table to connect with members of the community that there is an opportunity to turn this around and stop the violence on our streets," said Applyrs.

Soon, the city will install a new police chief. Late last week, Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced that Southfield, Michigan Police Chief Eric Hawkins has been appointed to the same position in Albany.

Center for Law & Justice Executive Director Alice Green was on the panel that took part in the interview process:   "He has incredible credentials. He has a lot of experience in law enforcement. He's very concerned about community policing.  He's also very committed to police wellness, which I think is very important, and he's anxious to get to Albany, and I think he'll hit the ground running because he wants to meet the community and be involved with the community as much as possible."

Here’s Mayor Sheehan on the process to replace retiring acting chief Robert Sears:   "So there were a number of people who participated in that. They put forward four individuals for me to interview, and I held those interviews, and in speaking with Chief Hawkins it was really clear to me very quickly that this was an individual who I thought had the right leadership skills, the right experience, and is really the right person for the city of Albany, so, he is the only person I extended an offer to and I was very pleased that he accepted it."

It remains to be seen what effect if any the new chief will have on the recent violence. Meantime, the Guardian Angels have turned back up in the city. Group founder Curtis Sliwa says he'll be "having a sitdown" with Mayor Sheehan Thursday.  "It'll be interesting because clearly I'll pose a question to the mayor: 'If I'm an outsider, what is your brand new police commissioner Eric Hawkins?' I mean he's further away from Albany than I am in New York City, and I've already spent time in the 80's in Arbor Hill and the South End. So it should be a very, very interesting atmosphere there, because it's rife with hypocrisy."

Applyrs chairs the council’s public safety committee:   "That is always a concern of some council members and residents, and yet there are others who are optimistic that this candidate will being fresh ideas and be able to apply some of his experience to what's happened here in Albany as related to gun violence with the hope of having a successful outcome."

Albany County District Attorney David Soares:  "This would be my seventh chief during my term. He will be welcomed here with opens arms. The department I'm very convinced the department will be supporting its new chief, the community will support its new chief, we just want the chief to stay with us."

Sliwa and the Angels return to Albany this evening to train local Recruits in making citizens arrests and patrol the South End.    "It's an interracial group of blacks and whites, males and females, I would say about a dozen members who can graduate the three months of training would make me feel good about Albany, the 66th largest city in America. That's about what we would need on a regular basis to patrol the streets."

The Albany Police Officers Union did not respond to a request for comment.

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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