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Albany Police Chief outlines summer safety plan to common councilors

 With summer, gun violence typically increases in the city of Albany. Police officials recently discussed spoke about the issue before the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee.
Albany Common Council
With summer, gun violence typically increases in the city of Albany. Police officials recently discussed the issue before the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee.

With summer, gun violence typically increases in the city of Albany. Police officials recently discussed the issue before the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Police Chief Eric Hawkins told councilors his department has identified and is monitoring notorious trouble spots across the city, including one Deputy Police Chief Vincent Foley identified as a "hotspot" of criminal activity.

"We know that Hoffman Park coming up in the summer months, particularly is a is a problem area, especially by the playground and that kind of stuff. So we're gonna give that some extra attention," said Foley.

Foley’s words rang true Tuesday evening: police say an Albany detective who was near the park heard several shots being fired. Shortly after, they say a patrol officer nearby observed three young males running from the scene. The three Albany teens were apprehended and arrested, and a loaded 9mm handgun was recoveredby officers.

Hawkins told Councilors his officers have taken many illegal guns off the streets since 2019, yet the weapons continue to come into the city as shootings persist.

"One thing that we all understand is that no one has the answer. I've had the privilege of having conferences with local and national experts on this," Hawkins said. "Nobody has an answer. But everybody tends to agree that what we're seeing has some social, political and legislative influences. But all of those influences have converged with this dramatic influx of guns in cities across the country. We saw it here, from 2019 to 2020. Our shootings more than doubled. Went up 113% in one year."

Hawkins says his department has effectively employed the state-funded GIVE program, "Gun-Involved Violence Elimination."

"And in order to receive this funding every single year, all of the agencies that receive this must present a plan to the Department of Criminal Justice Services that outline how aligned we are with some of the evidence based strategies that the Department of Criminal Justice Services have been advocating for. And the plan involves initiatives that identify the top offenders in the city, addressing hotspots," said Hawkins.

Though public perception and headlines may suggest otherwise, Hawkins says the number of people who have been shot in Albany is actually down 26% from this time last year.

11th ward Councilor Alfredo Balarin addressed the chief.

"I was hoping maybe you could share some information regarding the motivation of that you've seen of why these individuals are choosing to use guns to address their grievances," Balarin said.

"Councilman I'll use as an example the seven homicides we've had this year," said Hawkins. "Out of those seven homicides, five of those homicides were domestic related. One that we had that clearly wasn't was the homicide we had at the barbershop. And that was a drive-by where we're still trying to determine what the motivation was for that. A homicide is symbolic of what we see with our other shootings or other non-violent non-fatal shootings. A large percentage of those shootings are domestic related a large or large percentage of those shootings are individuals who have certain feuds between each other, they know each other. They've had some sort of disagreement about something. And they target the person that they've had this disagreement with.”

Hawkins says many acts of violence began with posts on social media. Foley noted that many of the victims refuse to cooperate with police.

"Some of the victims are refusing to let us photograph their injuries going to that extent," Foley said. "So to go through and find out exactly what is the underlying issue is very challenging when we show up to an intersection, and the only thing at the intersection is 22 shell casings. They don't tell us a story. We don't know what happened.”

Hawkins told Councilors that going forward, patrols will increase and beat officers will be added if needed. He says there are more than 100 surveillance cameras helping police keep eyes on the city, and Albany County Sheriff’s deputies are augmenting law enforcement activities, helping APD bride its staffing gap. At full capacity the APD has 342 budgeted positions. It's currently staffed at 289.

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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