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Building Bridges: Neighbors and Students

November 12, 2014

by Shannon Friel

The Committee for University and Community Relations convened Wednesday primarily to discuss Albany community building, college events, and safety proposals. A smartphone application that alerts the users of neighborhood crime and helps community members interact with each other was introduced Wednesday at the Albany Police Department’s Center Station.

A proposal for the use of the Village Defense Application was presented by Luke Rumsey, assistant director for community life at the University of Albany. The smartphone application allows citizens of specific neighborhoods to communicate directly with one another concerning crime. The application would enable Pine Hills residents to communicate and alert, or assist each other, or avoid crime scenes.

This application is used nationally but not locally. The Pine Hills would be the first community in Albany to use it and any resident interested would receive an activation code. The application would be implemented by the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, but there is a fear that it could be too costly. The application leaves the user anonymous, although the location of the crime is posted. The main concern, according to Rumsey, is that although monitored, it is possible for inaccurate information to be spread.

A separate and more accurate application, Nixel, is already being used, but Village Defense allows for faster alerts and fosters community building. The decision of whether to activate the application is still being debated. With the recent rise in local crime, this could help permanent residents and college students work together.

Recent local crimes could forewarn nearby citizens, or even let them know about crimes that aren’t reported by the media. In the last several weeks, four robberies occurred between October 22 and November 8, police reported. In three of these instances, a handgun was displayed, according to Ptl. Kyle Parker. On Halloween night there was a disturbance between Hudson and Quail, which attracted a large crowd but resulted in no violence and was quickly dispersed by the Albany Police Dept. Two University of Albany students were arrested for public urination during a University alcohol and safety walk on the week of Halloween. The vacation check program is advocated by the Albany Police Dept. for students who live in off-campus housing and will be leaving for break.

Off-campus students are a main concern within the Committee for University and Community Relations. According to Philip Chandler, from the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, this committee could be a vehicle for students to discuss, find help, and resolve off-campus issues. “This is a challenge to get the message of fire-safety to off-campus students,” Chandler said. He explained that he desired for students to know their rights, specifically pertaining to landlords, and explained that the Fire Dept. has a legal responsibility to check colleges but not individual houses.

Chandler said that this past Halloween a student-rented apartment near the University of Southern Maine caught fire and left five people dead. He also spoke of a fire in a student-rented space near the state University at Plattsburgh in February 2009 where a Plattsburgh student and a UAlbany student were the victims. Chandler is the same officer who conducts the fire and safety inspections at The College of Saint Rose.

Discussion among college and community leaders at the Committee on University and Community Relations Meeting. By Shannon Friel

Discussion among college and community leaders at the Committee on University and Community Relations Meeting. By Shannon Friel

Another neighborhood initiative was also discussed at the meeting. The Midtown Neighborhood Watch initiative recently gained 16 new members. This group does nightly patrols of the neighborhood and reports any suspicious activity to the Albany Police Department. Patrols are conducted in pairs and no direct action is taken by the volunteers unless directed by the police. Ten new shifts were accepted recently. All volunteers are trained and the program currently operates out of the Saint Rose Security building on Partridge Street. College students are welcome to participate.

Another program discussed at the meeting included the Pine Hills Improvement Group, led by Carolyn Keefe. She is looking for student volunteers and student organizations to help in upcoming programs and future events. Keefe would like to have student organizations be the liaison between her group and the students in the college.

Specifically, she is trying to organize a year-round clean-up program and more support for the “Meet, Munch and More,” program that works to unite off-campus students and community members. She also would like for students to “become part of the conversation,” and attend more of the University and Community Relations meetings.

The meetings for the Pine Hills Improvement Group are held in the Pine Hills Library at 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month. This next coming meeting is combining the November and December agenda and will meet on Dec. 1st.

The members of the committee are advocating for more local participation, both with college officials and the students. “All the colleges would benefit, it makes no sense for them to not be involved,” said Dick Clarkson from the Albany Medical College. Often, the College of Saint Rose’s only representation is Dave Mankad, a campus security officer, who comes to learn if there is anything to make the relationship between the college and community better, or if there is any news he could use to keep the students better informed.

The committee has been working for the last 23 years to enhance, promote, and share the concerns and ideas of the Pine Hills residents. Its mission is to allow various constituents to share information about various issues and bring to light anything the community would like to see addressed. Nancy Lauricella, the chair of the University and Community Relations meeting, said “I enjoy doing it. I think it’s a great way to share information with different community members and groups. ” -30-

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