The crime rate in Albany is down, but high-profile gun violence — and public awareness of it — is off the charts.
When Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan delivered her annual State of the City address, she mentioned safety:
"Notwithstanding the challenges that we saw in 2020, violent crime over the last six years is lower than the prior six-year period. And property crime is down nearly 30% since I took office, but we know that the community demands more of us, and that we need to be doing all that we can to help people feel safe, to listen to their challenges and concerns so that we can work together to address community violence. I look forward to the work that our Gun Violence Task Force is going to be doing under the leadership of the common council to help us to ensure that we are keeping our city safe. Chief Hawkins and I will not ever waver from our commitment to 21st Century policing strategies. They are proven to reduce crime and build trust, including here in the city of Albany, and we will continue to work with the community to address violence."
Sheehan, a second-term Democrat running for reelection, maintains Albany is a city where every neighborhood is safe. She blames increased gun violence on the pandemic.
"We weren't able to work together the way that we normally do. Our police officers when COVID first started, weren't getting out of their vehicles as much and having those one on one interactions. But when we saw the increase in violence, we immediately sought to see how we could safely engage with the community, and with our community partners to address gun violence. Under chief Hawkins' leadership, APD has redoubled its efforts to engage in a multi-agency law enforcement strategy that takes guns off the streets, and also works with community organizations like SNUG and our residents and our community or other community based organizations to keep guns out of the hands of our people in the first place."
Last weekend, five people were shot on Central Avenue, one of them, a pregnant woman, died.
Police Chief Eric Hawkins commented during a press conference in a busy garage at Albany's Department of General Services.
"We're outraged by this. This community should be outraged by this. You know, this is another example of violent undisciplined young men who are engaging in this sort of any sort of activities, and not resolving their conflicts in a peaceful nonviolent way. And our officers are out there, working very hard. We were at that scene less than a minute after it was dispatched, so officers are there. But we're asking the community to share the outrage that we have for these sorts of incidents."
Common Councilor Alfredo Balarin's ward sits just across Central Avenue from the site of the shooting.
"We've had shootings as well in the 11th Ward throughout these last 12 months. I do my best to make sure I go out and speak to the residents in that particular area that might have seen the violence, whether it's a shooting or stabbing, just to share information, also try to gather any information, but reassure them that we are here and we are trying to see how we can try to address these issues. They're difficult issues. And there's no easy answer unfortunately."
10th ward Councilor Owusu Anane finds the gun violence that Albany has been witnessing "unacceptable."
"But we also have to look at what legislative or funding mechanisms that we could take to ensure that the communities that are witnessing this amount of violence, have the resources to build, to help individuals with job opportunity, and also educational opportunity. So I think that while we're focusing on the violence that occurred in our city, we also need to look at the conditions that some of our residents are living in. Are we doing everything to offer opportunity for our residents? Are we doing everything in our power to address their quality of life, their mental health? And these are some of the questions that I'll continue to keep fighting for answers for. But I'll tell you this, this is a really tough time and in our country and our society. Violence is up in every urban community. And quite frankly, one shooting is too much in any society."
Anane supports community policing and suggests there should be increased police presence in the historically crime-troubled areas.
Police say anyone who witnesses gun violence or can provide information can report it anonymously by visiting capitalregioncrimestoppers.com.