COLONIE — Twenty-two handguns taken off the streets.
That is more than twice the number confiscated by Colonie police in any other year. The closest was in 2015 when there were 11 handguns confiscated. A year later it was seven and in 2017 and 2018 it was 10. Last year it was eight.
And are still two and a half months left in 2020, a year everyone is hoping will end sooner rather than later.
More than half of the guns found this year are during routine traffic stops. The driver either gives the officer probable cause to search the vehicle — an odor of marijuana or the car is towed because the driver does not have a proper license or registration — or the occupants of the vehicle give the officers the OK to search the vehicle or their person.
In one case, the driver, Frank Marrero, had a rifle case which acquiesced the officer to run the his name. It turned out he is a convicted felon, which prohibits him from owning or possessing any type of firearm, and the officer found two long guns inside the case.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise. Colonie sits smack dab in the middle of Albany, Schenectady and Troy. And to say those cities are having a difficult time in 2020 is an understatement. Albany alone has seen nearly 115 people shot this year and 15 homicides. There have been 36 shot in Troy with 13 murders and in Schenectady, there have been 36 people shot with five homicides. Even in Colonie, there were two shootings this year, which is two more than most years.
“It’s not hard to tie it into the ongoing gun violence that is going on all around us,” said Lt. Robert Winn. “To get back and forth to the cities you have to come through Colonie.”
A number of others were confiscated at the hotels scattered along Central Avenue, Wolf Road and Route 9. Those were generated by calls from other guests or the hotel personnel as the problems associated with the smaller, more unkempt hotels — drugs and prostitution — are spreading to the larger ones that have, in the past, housed a more desirable clientele.
There is just not any one concrete reason for the uptick in the number of handguns being confiscated by his officers, but Chief Jonathan Teale said so called bail reform is not helping matters.
“In many instance, bail reform acts as a revolving door,” Teale said. “We have people arrested for armed robbery and they are out the same day. It is allowing some to get more weapons and commit more violent crimes and that is driving up the numbers.”
For example, in July police confiscated an illegal handgun from Julian Soto after a traffic stop, the 15th gun of 2020. The 23-year-old from Troy was charged with two felonies of criminal possession of a weapon and a misdemeanor of criminal contempt for violating a court order barring him from having a weapon, legal or illegal.
In October, he was arrested for crashing a party and robbing a number of people at gunpoint. The gun he allegedly used was not recovered, but he was charged with eight felonies and remanded to the Albany County jail. In addition, in between the July and October arrests in Colonie, he was arrested twice in Rensselaer County.
“We arrested Mr. Soto again just the other day,” Teale said of the latest arrest. “Given the multiple number of incidents, in year’s past he would been in jail. At least the first time we confiscated the weapon before he had a chance to use it.”
Some state legislators have acknowledged there is an issue with bail reform and have pledged to modify the set of laws when they return to session in 2021. In theory, it allows those with limited or no means the same rights as those with the money to make bail, but at the same time it takes most judicial discretion out of the picture.
It is unclear what direction legislators will take, but odds are it will limit the number and types of infractions that qualify for no cash bail and allow judges more of a say in whether or not they set bail, which by law is only supposed to be used to ensure a person returns for a court date and is not a punitive measure.
“We really have not done anything differently,” Winn said. “Based on the number of weapons we are coming across, the officers have a heightened awareness of it, of course. We have always dealt with it and we have been fortunate they have not been used on an officer and nobody has been injured while they are making the arrests.”
Defund the police
Since George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minnesota police in May, the second most often phrase outside of Black Lives Matter is to “defund the police.” Most have backed off that knee jerk reaction to incidents of police brutality, and Teale, like most law enforcement officers, said he is open to more mental health professionals working alongside police officers.
“Do I believe in the defund the police movement? No. Do I believe in some of the other suggestions? Yes,” Teale said. “There is certainly a need for more mental health workers and social workers in the field but don’t take away from the police departments to fund them. I would love to see more funding for those professionals but not at the expense of the police departments.”
He said, in recent years money for mental health professionals to work alongside police officers has been cut at the state level and, by default, many of those duties are left to the police officers. Even when there is a mental health call, he said, it more often than not requires a police officer too because the subject could be armed and/or dangerous.
As per a governor’s executive order, municipalities across New York state are mandated to review, and where necessary modify, their police department’s policies and procedures. In Colonie, a nine-member committee has been meeting and will likely present a draft version of its findings and recommendations to the public next month or in December.
“The plan will likely include suggestions regarding various issues that committee members have brought to light following recent national events,” said Town Board member Melissa Jeffers, a member of the review committee. “I look forward to a healthy discussion with the public about how we can more forward together as a community and ensure the safety of our residents as well as our hard working men and women in law enforcement.”
As many municipal leaders and politicians across the state and country are taking money and resources away from police, demoralizing the departments and the officers, the Colonie Town Board passed a resolution earlier this month recognizing the work the CPD does day in and day out.
“It means a lot to the guys,” Teale said. “With bail reform and COVID the guys morale is stressed. It says something to them about having the support of not only the Town Board but of the community as a whole.”
A Siena poll commissioned by the town during a review of the Comprehensive Plan found 91 percent of people living in Colonie support the Police Department — a favorability rating no politician anywhere ever got close to reaching.
“Our officers continue to be proactive and the number of guns confiscated has definitely increased in comparison with the past few years. It appears bail reform has had an impact on the increasing numbers. We are seeing cases of repeat offenders with guns after they are released. Most of the offenders involved in these crimes are not residents of Colonie; they are passing through our town,” said Supervisor Paula Mahan. “I am very proud of the members of our department.”
Not just guns
The fact the department is confiscating guns is in and of itself somewhat of a morale boost because odds are if it remained on the streets it would have been used to shoot someone.
“We have a continued belief that every gun we take off the street in Colonie prevents a gun violence victim in the area and our officers take great pride in that,” Winn said.
But, Teale said, while guns make headlines his officers are called on for so much more on a daily basis. Every year, they respond to more than 5,000 accidents and routinely, in the course of their duty, are called upon to perform CPR or administer NARCAN to someone overdosing.
“There are lots of other things police do out there besides enforce the law,” he said. “I give our people a lot of credit for going out there every day, wearing their masks and coming into to contact with the public and helping people despite the failure of bail reform and getting the illegal guns of the street.”