Rotarians got an up-close look into aspects of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, from a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle to a transmitter that helps find those who wander.
“A lot of people just think the Sheriff’s Office runs the county jail or you’ve got a hilltown patrol,” said county Sheriff Craig Apple. “We are one of a handful of Sheriff’s Offices in the State of New York that are a fully accredited department, which means that we’ve reached the minimum standards and gone above and beyond.”
The Capital Region Rotary Club partnered with the county Sheriff’s Office to present “Fighting Crime with Sheriff Apple” on Wednesday, July 9, in the parking lot at the Italian American Community Center in Guilderland. The free event aimed to highlight the department’s efforts fighting crime and its community involvement.
“Our intention with this event is to spark an interest in our community’s youth,” said Jennifer Hendricks, past president of Capital Region Rotary Club, in a statement. “We need to start getting the younger generation involved with volunteering and giving back so that they know they can make a difference.”
There were a few little ones there, but the area Rotary chapter focuses on attracting young professionals to give back to the community and network, according to Hendricks.
Hendricks’ father was a past president of the Rotary’s Colonie-Guilderland chapter, but she did not find a particular chapter or other organization that “resonated” with her. She decided to form the Capital Region chapter.
“A lot of Rotary clubs are old-boys clubs, and they didn’t really encourage the business networking aspect, which ironically enough that’s how Rotary started,” said Hendricks.
She said unlike most Rotary clubs, which meet weekly, the Capital Region club only meets monthly to help fit into the schedule of young professionals. There are about 30 members, with the youngest being 24 years old and the oldest being 57 years old.
“We are really looking to ingrain ourselves in the communities of the inner cities in Albany, Schenectady and Troy,” said CRRC President Jim MacFawn. “Hopefully, moving forward, we can start working not only with Sheriff Apple but others in the community to do service and give back.”
Heavy issue confronted
Looming at the event was the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle the county Sheriff’s Office received through a federal government surplus program.
Apple touched on criticism the department received after obtaining the MRAP.
“A lot of people criticized us and boy did they ever because they said, ‘My gosh, he is militarizing the police department,’”Apple said.
Apple said he filed a grant for a $320,000 to purchase a BearCat, which is a wheeled, armored personnel carrier SWAT teams utilize. He said such a vehicle is needed for an active shooter situation to protect officers and help escort people from the scene.
While filing for the grant, Apple found out MRAPs were being distributed to law enforcement agencies, so he applied for it.
“To try and de-militarize it, we took the turret off,” he said. “It’s an armored beast, but the reason this is here is to make sure if there is an active shooter situation we can get your butts out of that place safely; as well get our staff in there and out of there safely.”
Apple said the vehicle is not here to “take your guns or serve warrants,” which drew some laughs. He said the vehicle was used once during an active shooter incident and credited it for helping to save lives.
A mobile command vehicle the department uses was on display, which was given to the department through a Homeland Security grant. This serves as a communications outpost in emergency situations.
More than a jail
Albany County Correctional Facility is one of the larger jails in the state, Apple said, which holds up to about 1,050 inmates. There are typically more than 850 inmates housed daily.
In April of last year, the correctional facility partnered with the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society to implement the STAR (Steps to Adoption Readiness) program. Inmates train homeless dogs for five weeks through the program, which aims to make the dogs better suited for adoption into a permanent home.
Dogs are taken from the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society’s animal shelter in Menands and are placed the dorm, or cell, of three inmates.
“We have done 24 dogs, and I think a little over 20 of them have been adopted by our staff,” said Apple. He joked those dogs “haven’t been able to get out into society yet.”
Apple said the program also helped him change ill-informed perceptions on pit bulls, which many people believe to be naturally dangerous or violent.
“The first two dogs, I kept saying to myself before we got them, ‘please don’t be a pit bull,’” he said. “Sure as anything, the first two dogs were pit bulls. I had that whole stigmatism myself. They were the nicest dogs we’ve had.”
The majority of canines becoming “jail dogs” have been pit bulls, he said, but they’ve worked out great for the program.
“It has boosted the moral with the officers because the dogs roam free … we have less contraband, we have less inmate on inmate fights,” he said. “It’s really had a calming effect on the whole jail, so it’s been a great program.”
This year, the department partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension and master gardener Phyllis Rosenblum to plant a vegetable garden at the county jail. Inmates have grown tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, squash, cabbage and eggplant in 10 garden beds.
“We’re donating (the produce) to food pantries to see what the poundage would be, and next year our goal is to try and introduce it into the jail to try and lower some of our food costs,” said Apple.
Apple said trying to “break the cycle” is important to building a stronger community.
“I firmly believe that if you can show these inmates that they can be productive, get off services, get off programs and get jobs we all win,” he said. “We got less in the jail then we don’t have to hire corrections officers and maintenance staff. … Everybody wins.”