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After latest Pine Hills shooting, Albany common councilor’s calls for police chief’s resignation fall on deaf ears

Police tape along Albany's Hudson Avenue.
Ian Pickus
Police tape along Albany's Hudson Avenue.

A homicide in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood Friday is drawing the outrage of a Common Councilor who is calling for the police chief to resign. The chief tells WAMC the rhetoric is unhelpful.

The Friday afternoon shooting in the vicinity of Hamilton and Ontario Streets happened in the same area of an early morning shooting in August where six young people were injured. The neighborhood is heavily populated by students. Saying he'd had enough, 10th Ward Democratic Common Councilor Owusu Anane on Saturday demanded the resignation of Police Chief Eric Hawkins.

"I speak to the police chief, it just seems like there is no vision or plan to address this issue and ultimately the buck has to stop somewhere," Anane said. "I understand COVID happened but we cannot keep blaming it on COVID and blaming it on other people."

City Hall reacted quickly. Mayor Kathy Sheehan expressed "complete confidence" in the police department and Chief Hawkins. Her Chief of Staff David Galin says Anane’s criticism of the chief is "baseless," dismissing the call as “counterproductive political grandstanding.”

Hawkins spoke with WAMC Tuesday:

“The Councilman and I have a very open relationship professionally, in terms of our communication, you know, he calls me whenever he needs to, I call him whenever it's necessary, you know, our lines of communication are open," said Hawkins. "That's why I was a little disappointed, you know, with the position that he's taken, the public position. I think the messaging at this time is wrong. You know, right now, we should be sending a message of hope and optimism to members of our community, you know, it's not about rainbows and blue skies and trying to disguise what's happening around here, but people want to hear from our leaders, that there is some hope, you know, that there is a way out of this. And that's what I'm projecting, you know, there's some good things that are happening, you know, yes, we've had some homicides, we've had some shootings, we've had other violence in the city. But we've had a lot of guns taken off the street that have prevented homicides and prevented other shootings.”

7th Ward Councilor Sergio Adams, also a Democrat, says he hasn't seen conditions improve in Pine Hills under Hawkins, who came on board in 2018.

He says he understands where Anane is coming from.

“The tragedies that have happened over in the Pine Hills area is, to my opinion, pure neglect," said Adams. "I say that because, as a student who went to UAlbany, who lived on those streets on Hudson Avenue, for a couple of years, the trend of students coming back to school, taking over Hudson, Hamilton St., Yates, and some of those streets over in Pine Hills, has been going on for years. The APD refuses or turns a blind eye to this time of year, when we have all these students coming back. The fact that the APD cannot be proactive in their approach to reduce or deter some of these incidents from happening is a big issue.”

Hawkins says APD has deployed more police resources to that neighborhood than any other area of the city.

“We've had over 200, shifts, extra shifts, assigned to that Pine Hills area during the summer months," Hawkins said. "We've had over 100 hours of additional overtime for officers in that area. We've had fixed posts in that area, during the summer months near that park. You know, so it's just not true, that we're not giving attention to that area, the facts of the matter are, we're giving more attention to that area in terms of police staffing and resources, than we are any other area of our city.”

Officials say 18-year-old William Sanders was found in the roadway on Hamilton Street between Quail and Ontario Streets with multiple gunshot wounds to the torso Friday and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hours later, police arrested 20-year-old Brian Moses, who was allegedly found hiding in his basement. Tear gas was deployed to assist in removing Moses from the scene, a decision supported by Mayor Sheehan, who praised the efforts of the city police department in a Saturday afternoon statement that reads in part:

“Yesterday's events are a stark reminder of how important it is for the Albany Police Department to have access to every resource available to keep our community safe — including tear gas.”

Adams is one of several councilors who, for about two years, have tried unsuccessfully to move legislation to ban APD from using tear gas.

”It was quite laughable to then put out a statement, you know, trying to tout that," said Adams. "Oh, yeah, so we solved this issue because of tear gas.”

15th Ward Councilor Tom Hoey, also a Democrat who chairs the public safety committee, says he spoke with Hawkins about deploying tear gas to secure the arrest.

"And my first question, when I talked to the chief, did they follow a procedure that you have set up? And he said, Yes, that they had, they warned the residents in the area that they had medical personnel available," Hoey said. "And that was used according to the guidelines department set up."

Hoey added he understands Anane's frustration, but believes Hawkins is doing his job.

“Police alone cannot solve this rise in violence. This is a society problem," said Hoey. "And it's going to take more than just a police department to stop it. I think it's much too soon to ask for the chief's resignation.”

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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