Leaders in the city of Albany are addressing a spike in crime.
"We need for people to put the guns down," said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan at the Arbor Hill police station Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier this month, the Albany Common Council declared June 2nd "Gun Violence Awareness Day" and June "Gun Violence Awareness Month." Sheehan says it's imperative to get the guns away from people. "There is not a single street in the city where it's acceptable for there to be gun violence. And so, if your boyfriend, your son, someone in your apartment has an illegal gun, reach out. If you don't want to talk directly to the police, call Crimestoppers. We need to get these guns out of the hands of people who could use them in a way, whether it's in the heat of an argument, whether it's to settle a beef, whether they're just intending to scare someone, these guns can kill innocent bystanders.”
Sheehan says the community needs to step up in the fight to get guns out of circulation. Reading from a prepared statement, Acting Albany Police Chief Robert Sears stressed that one shooting is too many. "We need to convince folks that speaking with the police is the right thing to do and will help the community at large. We are making progress on this front but we still have work to do. This is one of the reasons why crimestoppers program is so important. People can make 100 percent anonymous tips to crimestoppers without ever being identified. " The number to call: 1-833-ALB TIPS. Or use Capital Region Crimestoppers website.
Sears says there have been 21 shootings this year so far. Last year the city saw 45. The five-year average is 30. Of the 40 gun seizures in the city this year, all have been illegal weapons. The acting chief explained that police are working to get more officers in areas where crime is the highest, in numbers that would fluctuate, making the force more visible over the coming weeks. In addition to patrol cars, residents should expect to see officers on foot, bike and horseback.
The mayor says no child on any city block should be placed in danger. "We the city have really focused on West Hill from every perspective, not just the police, but including our General Services, our water department, our planning department, looking at the environment, looking at what we can be doing internally within the city to reduce violence. And some of those are things like going through street by street and identifying where you have trees that are overgrown and covering streetlights, where you have overgrown lots. Where you have places where we need to be cracking down on code enforcement, the things that we can be doing to ensure that we're not creating an environment where it makes it easy for people to engage in violent activities."
Community policing in troubled areas has included activities like bike rodeos, barbecues and block parties. Officials hope those interactions will pay off. "As the police department will tell you, if they are engaging with somebody who is either at risk of being a shooter or being shot, it's not that we just go and tell them 'please don't do this.' We go and tell them 'Please don't do this and how can we help you?' How can we help you connect to safe housing. How can we help connect you to a job? How can we help connect you to workforce development?’ And so there are tremendous opportunities, and one of the things that the police will tell you is that all of these illegal guns, we can do all we can to try to curb the supply side, but we've got to end the demand side. Why are young people in particular, why is anybody keeping a gun illegally? And so, to deal with that demand side we have to connect people to opportunities."
Sheehan adds that the city has scholarships available so that people can be paid while they are engaged in workforce development programs. "There is tremendous opportunity that is available out there. I tell young people in particular in our communities that the number one complaint I hear form employers is that they cannot find people to fill jobs. That's opportunity."
Although he did not give a number, Sears again said there would be "more" officers visible on streets in the days to come. He did note that 20 state troopers continue to accompany some officers on road patrols, under an initiative started in 2017 by Governor Andrew Cuomo to combat what he called the "twin scourge" of the opioid epidemic and gang violence.