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Accountability Board introduced at Midtown Watch meeting

February 14, 2012

by TG Branfalt Jr.

Tom Gebhardt shows watch members an example of the new vests / TG Branfalt Jr

The Albany District Attorney’s office presented the Midtown Neighborhood Watch with new kits Tuesday night during their bi-monthly meeting at Albany Police center station.

The kits consisted of reflective orange arm bands, sashes, new hats, new winter beanies, spiral notepads and pens. Clare Kelley, Albany County DA’s office Community Justice Outreach coordinator was on hand to distribute the kits as well as to discuss the Community Accountability Board with the members.

Individuals who run astray of the law are often directed to the board for punishment, depending on the decision by a judge. According to board literature, distributed by the DA’s office, the board “provides an alternative to traditional criminal justice responses, and focuses on repairing the damages done to victims of crime, including the community.” The board’s disciplinary process consists of three-steps, designed to provide education for the offender.

“They have to understand the damage they are doing to the community,” Kelley said. “What they do reflects on the community.”

First, the offender attends an intake meeting, in which they make contact with the Community Justice Outreach Center following their court appearance. Offenses eligible for the program range from minor public noise violations to more serious crimes such as shoplifting and fighting.

The offender then appears in front of the board. The board consists of approved community volunteers .

“Offenders first admit to committing the offense, take accountability for their actions and recount the events surrounding the offense,” the document says. Then an agreement is established.

The agreement usually includes a formal written apology, an essay, or research into GED classes and some form of community service, if deemed necessary by the board. The offender must complete their documented service within two months.

Finally, the offender is subject to an exit interview, where they discuss their experience with the board.

The Pine Hills currently has an accountability board distinct from the city.

“We’ve had a couple of students come to the Pine Hills meeting and either issue an apology or talk about their research or testimony,” Tom Gebhardt, said co-founder of the Midtown Neighborhood Watch. “It’s been very effective. I think it’s fantastic.”

The students will conduct research on subjects pertinent to their offense. They will also apologize to the victims of their actions at a community meeting.

Gebhardt also submitted the proposal and prospective design for the new reflective vests to Kelley for the DA office’s consideration. The proposal included a price quote by ADvantage Promotions of Selkirk. The $718 estimate includes 25 vests, printed front and back.

Watch members also seemed hopeful that new signs, a project that has been delayed for “almost a year” according to Albany police officer Janet Zalatan, will be put up in the neighborhood.

“The Chief is 110 percent wanting to get this done,” Zalatan said. “So I think it is going to happen this time.”

Steve Johnson, Watch captain and Beverwyck Neighborhood Association member, also discussed expanding the current watch area west past North Allen Street.

Watch captain Steve Johnson addresses members while Gebhardt listens closely/ TG Branfalt Jr

“Beverwyck watch has already expanded past North Allen, so all we are asking is to expand the area so we can maybe get more volunteers,” Johnson explained. “It doesn’t make any sense to not cover the whole area.”

The board expressed concerns about the number of volunteers it has walking the current area. Members were able to agree that if they could grow beyond their current 14 members, Johnson’s request would be taken into account.

The watch will begin more frequent patrols as the weather becomes warmer.

Their next Midtown Neighborhood Watch meeting will be held April 18 at the Albany Police center station.  -30-


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