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
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,
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?”
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