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Albany Police Officers Take a Hike

January 19, 2011

by Brian Hubert

After months of  hammering  out details of beat zones and officer assignments, the Albany Police Department’s Community Engagement unit was  deployed Monday.

Chief Steven Krokoff announced the deployment of the Community engagement unit Tuesday.

Lt. Michael Tremblay will command the unit and and Sgts. Peter Noonan, Jason Davis, Anthony Geraci and Kenneth Sesock will supervise it.    A map on the city’s website shows that the Pine Hills Neighborhood, including Saint Rose, lies in beat zone 16.  The officer assigned to the Pine Hills Neighborhood is Ptl. J. Acquaviva.

The program, called the Community Engagement Unit, will see the return of regular foot and bicycle patrols

Police cars are parked outside of the Albany Police Department’s Center Station (Brian Hubert)

throughout the City’s neighborhoods.

According to Rick Romand, an officer at the Police Department’s Center Station, the program will assign an officer to a specific neighborhood on foot, or on a bicycle “It will put a face and name on an officer, as opposed to officers in a police car,” said Romand.

Det. James Miller, police spokesman, said  there will be shifts day and night, and the frequency of patrols will depend on the need in the specific neighborhood.

The goal of the program is to build trust between the police department and city residents.  A 2009 police department report highlighted discord between the Department and the community, despite a drop in most crime categories.   The report said residents felt crime was rampant, and that the streets of Albany were unsafe.  In the Pine Hills, car larcenies and burglaries are the most common crimes, said Miller.

While the report highlighted a disconnection between city residents and the police department, Miller emphasized that city residents are presently contacting the department.  “The neighborhood association has regular meetings with the community services officers to exchange information,” said Miller.

Students cross Madison Avenue on the Saint Rose Campus (Brian Hubert)

According to Miller, community policing promotes partnerships, and problem solving techniques to address public issues like crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.  “It is a partnership between the community and the police department to solve problems in a collaborative effort,” said Miller.

Councilwoman Leah Golby of the 10th ward, supports the program. “The Police Department is working to be more sensitive to being a service provider first,” said Golby

Romand said officers would work with University of Albany Police, and Saint Rose Campus Security. “Everyone puts a lot of time into to making the campus area safe,” said Romand.

Despite the excitement among police and city officials, community reaction was mixed. Pine Hills resident Eileen McFaren highly supports the shift to community policing. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. The only way we can build trust is by making a connection by talking with them, working with them, knowing them,” said McFerran.

Community policing made McFerran feel safer during an eight month stay in England.  “The police always walked the same beat. I always knew the officers, and they knew what was happening in our town,” said McFerran. She said community policing is needed to reduce a growing state of fear in the neighborhood,  “It’s changed our way of life. We don’t feel as free to come and go like we used to.”

Chris De Leo, a library assistant at the Pine Hills Public Library, also supports the program, “I think it’s a good thing for the neighborhood.  I think it will develop a state of trust,” said De Leo

Others are not so sure the program will help.  Ann Belve a shift leader at the Dunkin Donuts On Madison Avenue and West Lawrence  does not believe the program will help reduce crime  “The police are not around at 2 a.m. when the bars close. The kids got money on them and they’re prey,” said Belve.”

The Pine Hills Neighborhood Association was also involved in process of creating The Community Engagement Unit.   Todd Hunsinger, President of the Association, was on the 16- member Albany Community Policing Advisory Committee appointed by the Common Council and the Common Council President

According to Hunsinger, the committee first met in February. “We held public forums seeking community input on what Community Policing should be, and prepared a report for what Community Policing should look like in the city of Albany,” said Hunsinger.

Everyone involved in the planning of the program sees it as a positive step. “Community policing employs a philosophical shift away from crime solving to problem solving and crime prevention. It enables the community to play a more active role in public safety through building partnerships with the police department,” said Hunsinger.

Officer Romand is also excited about the new program. “People will be more likely to contact officers, not just when they need services.   It is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Romand.

Thomas L. Gebhardt Director of Personal Safety and Off-campus Affairs- at University of Albany’s University Police Department said,  “The Albany Police Department officers are going to get to know the students and the community, and the community will get to know the officers,” said Gebhardt.

Quality of life in the college is expected to improve. “Those not being held accountable will be held accountable,” said Romand.

Both Miller and Romand emphasized the department wants to practice community policing throughout all levels of the department, and not just in the Community Engagement Unit.  “Community Policing worked in other cities when it was done on a department wide basis, not just by putting a few beat officers out and calling that community policing,” said Miller.

Even with increased police presence, Romand urged students and residents to be alert when walking around any neighborhood.  “Students should use designated Safe Corridors starting at Main Avenue on the west, stretching east to Quail Street, north to Central Avenue, and south to Madison Avenue,” said Romand.  He urged students to stay in the Safe Corridors to decrease the chance of being a victim of a crime.  Students should stick to well-lit areas that are regularly patrolled due to higher pedestrian traffic, said Romand

Romand also urged students to take advantage of the Safe Business program near the college area.  “If students see the Safe Business sign, they can enter the business and the business owner will summon the police or other emergency services,” said Romand.

The Map highlighting the boundaries of the patrol zones, and the Tuesday  press release can be downloaded from this page.   -30-


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