The city of Albany is grappling with a spike in violent crime, leading to an emotional response from the mayor, who is coming in for criticism from the police union.
"So far this year, the Albany Police Department has recovered 47 crime guns off the street. From pro-active stops and other incidents they've been able to arrest 37 people involved in crime guns as well." APD Spokesman Steve Smith speaking after the latest round of shootings last week.
When the Albany Common Council declared June "Gun Violence Awareness Month," Mayor Kathy Sheehan said: "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 and acting Police Chief Robert Sears echoed that call at a community rally Sunday afternoon in Arbor Hill, calling for the end to the recent uptick in crime, the mayor in tears as she asked residents to help stop it.
Albany County legislator Wanda Willingahm says it's reached the tipping point. "We realize that we can no longer ignore this. I think we're at such a high rate now as far as the number of shooting victims that we have, if we continue at this rate we're going to go past the number that we had last year."
Last year the city saw 45. The five-year average is 30.
A parade of citizen-activists have tried to halt the violence, including Victory Christian Church Pastor Charlie Muller, who is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the shooting death of local activist Elijah Cancer.
For some, the cycle recalls Albany in the 1980’s, when Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels answered a call for help. "It was the South End and Arbor Hill, and in fact it was an alderman there at the time, Nebraska Brace, who ran a hamburger joint, and we had quite the session in discussing what then was a tremendous rise in crime."
Sliwa thinks the same set of factors that spiked Albany crime in the past remain. "You have the heat and local folks in the streets beefin' or behind closed doors. You also have guys who've been released from prison who've decided rather than go to other parts maybe form where they were originally from, they settle in Albany. And then you always have that pipeline from Brookly and the Bronx up the New York State Thruway, which has affected communities all throughout from Kingston to Albany to Utica, right on out to Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo."
On Sunday, the Albany Police Officers union criticized Mayor Sheehan and Albany Cure Violence, aka SNUG, in a Facebook post that has since been deleted. The Union did not respond to a request for comment. Mayor Sheehan took to Twitter and Facebook Monday morning, saying she will "not be responding to the false claims made on social media by a member of the Albany Police Union against myself and APD command staff. There is a process by which the union can bring forward labor concerns, and I respect that process."
Frequent Sheehan administration critic Judd Krasher is a former Common Council member. "Communities and neighborhoods in the city of Albany have felt like the police deparment didn't have their best interests in mind. And the administration's response was, what, to have barbecues? So what, people who have had deep-rooted and rightful distrust with the police department, they're now supposed to trust the police department because they're out flippin' hamburgers and serving hot dogs? On what damn planet does Kathy Sheehan and the rest of her leadership team live on?'
Acting Police Chief Sears: "I'm not going to react what Judd has to say. I don't think his comments are relevant. We're in the middle of this every day. We're working every day with the men and women of the city, not only the department, we're working together with the community. And some of our frustrations lie when we do get to the scene and no one wants to talk with us or cooperate."
County legislator Willingham says it's not that easy: "They have this poster out here now called CrimeStoppers and it says that you keep the information, that the police keep the information private. If that's the case you don't get on TV and just tell 'oh, they're not cooperating.’ That makes the community look bad. But if somebody wanted to tell something, then you know, maybe they might feel a little bit unsafe."
Sliwa says the Guardian Angels could return. "We're in 13 countries and 130 cities. Albany is always in consideration because it does have that ebb and that flow and there's so many factors that affect its crime."