Albany’s mayor, police chief and common council members representing wards impacted by the violence held a press conference Friday at police headquarters to urge an end to a rash of shootings.
12 people were shot, one killed in a single-day spike of gun violence in Albany. Police Chief Eric Hawkins says so far in 2020, Albany has tallied 39 shooting incidents, more than three times the count in June of last year.
"Confirmed shots fired, last year we had 29 at this point in time, this year we have 99. We're making arrests and we're recovering weapons."
Hawkins notes, contrary to popular opinion, most of the recovered weapons originated in New York state, somehow landing in the wrong hands.
"It's unfortunate that on Juneteenth we have to have this kind of conversation."
Second ward councilor Derek Johnson agrees with Hawkins that it is yet to be determined whether the shootings are gang-related. He thinks the uptick in gun violence is more likely rooted in recent societal and legal changes.
"People have been released from jail due to COVID. People have been released because of bail reforms. A number of things are factoring in. And you know, we can't have that conversation because people get upset about it."
Fourth ward councilor Kelly Kimbrough was an Albany police officer for 22 years. Talking about shell casings he observed on the sidewalk at one of the crime scenes, says "it's like a war, right out there on our city streets."
"People know where these guns are. I mean some of this stuff is unpredicatble when you can't control it happening, but some of this stuff, people know who the shooters are, who the few people are that are doing violence in our city, so we need help, The police department needs help. Identifying those folks, let's not wait until someone you love or care about is injured in one of these incidents."
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan is convinced the pandemic is an underlying factor in the unusually high number of recent shootings.
"We are part of a gun violence initiative that is active across the country, and has demonstrated an ability to reduce gun violence. But that initiative requires a lot of one-on-one interaction, group intervention and a lot of hard work that has really been, we've been unable to do in the way that it was done during the COVID crisis."
Sheehan says the city's dormant gun violence intervention program will be making a comeback. She's also looking for input from all organizations across the city to form a collective to review police policy and come up with recommendations.
"We're gonna be as creative as we can. We're gonna be looking at how we deploy the police. We're gonna be looking at the types of calls that they respond to. We're gonna be looking at some of these interactions where it may be that a caseworker, a mental health professional, if we have additional resources there, would be better suited to addressing those issues. And so, I look forward to a really collaborative process."
Police headquarters on Henry Johnson Boulevard remains heavily barricaded; effectively a physical wall now separates the police from the community after police-protester interactions this month turned violent.
Albany Police Spokeman Steve Smith tells WAMC that due to COVID-19, all community-police activities like “Coffee with a Cop' and pop-up barbeques had to be cancelled. There is no set date for their return.