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Midtown watch receives funding for signs

February 12, 2012

by TG Branfalt Jr.

The new Midtown neighborhood watch sign design

New full-color signs will make the Midtown neighborhood watch more visible in the Pine Hills. In the coming months new metal signs will be put up around the neighborhood. Paper signs, displaying the same image, will be displayed in the windows of local businesses. The color signs will replace the current black and white signs, and will be more prominent in the neighborhood.

Watch co-founder and University at Albany Director of Personal Safety and Off-Campus Affairs Tom Gebhardt has spearheaded the project, which will be funded by his department at the University.

“[The signs] will notify everyone, including the criminals, this is a neighborhood watch community,” Gebhardt said.

The watch, formed in 2006, is an evolution of a former walk and watch program in the neighborhood.

Gebhardt founded the current watch with Anton Konev, who is now the 11th Ward Councilman. The watch meets bi-monthly at the Albany police center station for recruitment, updates and new member training. The next meeting will be held Tuesday.

“I was attacked,” Konev said. “I wanted to do something to make the neighborhood a safer place.”

The attack occurred near the University at Albany’s downtown campus while Konev was a student at the university. Konev is now a watch captain.

The watch acts as eyes and ears for the Albany police department patrolling the neighborhood in shifts. Depending on the number of volunteers, members patrol the neighborhood weekly, between 7 and 10 p.m. The frequency of shifts also depend on the availability of volunteers and captains.

Tom Gebhardt in his University at Albany office /TG Branfalt Jr

Watch members wear navy blue hats and shirts identifying themselves in yellow letters as neighborhood watch. They also wear flashing armbands. Gebhardt recently asked the District Attorney’s office for funding to buy reflective vests, which would be optional for members.

The watch consists of long-term Albany residents and student volunteers, who are subject to an application and screening process by the Albany police department. The process includes a criminal background check. Once cleared the new members must complete a training program conducted by Albany police officer Janet Zalatan. The training involves instructions for updating file maps of the watch area what to look for while on patrol, what and how to report and what phone number should be called to notify police. Members are re-trained yearly.

“We don’t want any vigilantes out there,” Gebhardt said. “Safety is paramount.”

The patrols are lead by at least one captain, and always involve a minimum of two people. Watch members are mostly male.

“I feel I am helping make the neighborhood safer,” said watch captain Martin Daley, who has been watch captain for “a couple of years.”

Recently the Attorney General’s office used the Pine Hills watch as a model for a potential city wide neighborhood watch program. Currently the various neighborhood watch programs around the city have little inter-program communication.

The watch is a joint effort by the University at Albany, The College of Saint Rose, the Albany police department and the Pine Hills and Beverwyck neighborhood associations. Local businesses also sponsor the efforts. Mild Wally’s gives members on patrol free slices of pizza and the Hudson River Coffee House provides large coffees. The watch has also received donations from Saint Rose security, the University’s Student Association and Advisory Committee on Public Safety, Capital District New York Chapter of Thrivent, and the Albany Police Department and Fire Foundation.

Some Saint Rose student members receive community service credit for their work, an incentive that has not been enacted at the University at Albany. Their larger student body brings more volunteers.

“[The patrols] bring students and long-term neighbors together that may not normally talk to each other,” Gebhardt said, “You learn a lot about the person you are on patrol with. A good way to break down barriers [and] stereotypes.”


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