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June 4, 2007


Published in Metroland

Waiting for the First Volley

An Albany Common Council resolution to create a gun-violence task force nears its one-year birthday, and remains unfulfilledClippings of carjackings and armed robberies, stories about shootings and home invasions—this is the stuff of Leonard Morgenbesser’s collection. And unlike most collectors, he looks forward to the day when his subject matter gets too scarce and he can find a new hobby.

“As far as I can tell, it’s a problem that doesn’t seem to go away,” said Morgenbesser, who has kept an ongoing record of gun-related crimes reported by the local media for nearly three years. According to Morgenbesser’s most recent tally, there have been 186 gun-related crimes reported by the media in the city of Albany since Sept. 19, 2002, with one incident occurring nearly every four days.

“And the media accounts—they might just be an underestimate of what’s going on,” said Morgenbesser. “People say that crime’s way down, that it’s not a problem. But when there’s someone with a gun to their head every four days, that seems like a problem to me.”

And 72 of those crimes have occurred since Albany’s Common Council unanimously passed a resolution earlier this year [“The Task at Hand,” Newsfront, Jan. 15] that, according to Morgenbesser, could lead to a decline in subject matter for his ad-hoc study.

The resolution, sponsored by Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), calls upon the mayor to create a gun-violence task force for the city, composed of various law-enforcement agencies, community groups and business organizations. Since its passage, there has been little word from Mayor Jerry Jennings about actually forming such an entity. Calls to the mayor’s office about the resolution were not returned.

“All we could do was pass the resolution,” explained Calsolaro, “because the council can’t set up a task force or appoint outside members to it.”

According to Calsolaro, such a task force would be utilized in cooperation with local law enforcement as a sort of education and outreach program to supplement law-enforcement efforts. Calsolaro cited the city’s recent “Don’t Buy for the Other Guy” campaign, which targeted illegal gun purchases, as the sort of program a gun-violence task force might play a role in developing. A task force would also gather, organize and analyze information about gun violence in Albany and cities with similar problems.

“Maybe once a month or four or five times a year they could meet with police,” said Calsolaro, who described the task force as being more of a proactive—rather than reactive—approach to curbing gun violence. “It’s like going after a disease. You need to know what you’re fighting before you can really fight it.”

Local law-enforcement agencies have been cautious about putting their support behind the task-force proposal, however. After the initial resolution passed, members of the Albany Police Department expressed concerns that such a task force would simply duplicate efforts already underway by city and state law-enforcement agencies.

“We’ll work within any legislation that passes,” said Detective James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Police Department, “but it would be crazy to duplicate things, because you won’t be using your resources in an effective manner.”

Miller cited Operation Impact, a joint city and state program targeting high-crime neighborhoods, as one program that targets essentially the same issues as the proposed task force. According to Miller, approximately 60 guns have been seized in the last four months, and the number of shots fired in the city—along with the number of people shot—is decreasing over time.

While Morgenbesser acknowledged the efforts of local law-enforcement agencies, he insisted that communication between law-enforcement personnel and the community—rather than simply between law-enforcement personnel and other law-enforcement personnel—may hold the answer to stopping gun crime before it happens.

“I would be the first on the front line saying that this is not just [Albany Police] Chief Turley’s problem,” said Morgenbesser. “But we can’t just fight this as a criminal justice and police issue—it’s a public-health issue, too.”

However, Morgenbesser added that the recent election of Albany County District Attorney David Soares might signal that a community-minded approach to law enforcement is gaining acceptance.

“When does [gun violence] become a problem?” he asked. “When it starts happening once every two days?”

—Rick Marshall


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