Sheriff Craig Apple and his deputies are now in the City of Albany instituting what is essentially the broken window method of fighting crime. From May 25 to June 2, he said deputies pulled over 355 vehicles for minor stuff. But, that led to deputies making 36 arrests.
I think he could go even further, like what Troy did a few years back when things got out of hand on that side of the river. Police there instituted the Street Crimes Unit and were stopping people for jaywalking and riding a bike without a bell just to see if there was any probable cause to get in the “perpetrators” pockets.
It’s a perfectly legal policing strategy — jaywalking or a bell-less bike is no different than getting pulled over for speeding — if not hugely controversial. It did work, though, and it led to taking a bunch of drugs and weapons off the streets and made the criminal element not so comfortable in the Collar City. Those who had nothing in their pockets had nothing to worry about, except a minor inconvenience, and were sent on their way.
It’s a fine line because everyone has the same rights, whether you have a snub nosed 38 special with the serial number ground off in your pocket or if you do not. That’s the beauty of living in America. For that and so many other reasons, it is difficult to say “go and frisk everyone.” It is not something I, or anyone else who enjoys and respects the liberties granted us by our Constitution, would advocate.
Something, though, has to be done in Albany. Hearing and reading about a 15-year-old girl getting shot and killed for being in the wrong spot at the wrong time is one thing. Seeing her mother wail in pain, or her brother try to hold it together as he wishes he could take her to the ice cream stand one more time, or a school community holding candles as they mourn the loss of a sophomore basketball player puts it in a different perspective.
Those are real people behind sanitized words in a newspaper and long-lasting tears behind a two-minute clip on television.
Destiny Greene, the sophomore at Shaker High killed on May 24, was but one of nine shot to death in Albany so far in 2021. And the year isn’t even half over. In all of 2020, when everything and everybody was supposedly locked down, there were 15 homicides, a record number that looks to be shattered this year.
What is being done about it?
Not much. Until Apple rode into town.
Sure, Albany police made a couple of arrests and Albany County District Attorney David Soares is prosecuting those criminals but that’s all after the fact. After a 15-year-old and eight others were shot to death. That doesn’t go away when the shooter goes to jail. The scales of justice may balance in the eyes of the law, but it is not, and never can be, a punishment equal to the crime.
There are all sorts of excuses being thrown out there by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Police Chief Eric Hawkins and others.
Yes, the proliferation of illegal guns is an issue and it has been for years. That’s Sheehan’s excuse for all the killings in her city. Not the people pulling the trigger but the fact there are too many guns jumping in the hands of criminals. Of course, getting illegal guns off the streets should be the focus of any law enforcement agency.
In 2020, The Town of Colonie removed 22 guns, twice as many as the previous record of 11 confiscated in 2015. The majority of those weapons were seized during traffic stops. Either the driver gave police permission to search the vehicle or there was probable cause evident like drugs in plain site or an active, outstanding warrant or maybe there were issues with the driver’s license or ID.
Despite what critics may or may not say, police know who and when to look a little harder for probable cause. They need the support of the community and the elected officials to go and do it. In Colonie they have it, in Albany, they do not.
Searching cars and finding illegal guns will do more to stop killing this summer than any form of legislated gun control out of Washington. What Colonie did in 2020 was hardcore, on the street gun control — not an abstract theory debated by eggheads in think tanks, activists on social media or politicians in the halls of any Capitol — and it yielded undeniable results.
There are cries to “defund the police” and to hire social workers instead of uniformed police officers but that’s another abstract. Something that, at best, could be a benefit somewhere down the road in some scenarios in some cities. But, that won’t help stop the killing this summer either — or 10 summers from now.
There is the Black Lives Matter movement and addressing systematic racism in our society, to whatever degree it exists, is surely a noble objective. I suppose, whether or not a system, or a society, is racist depends on how many people think it is. Perception, in many ways, is reality. But, changing beliefs and mores held firm for decades or centuries won’t help stop the killing this year in Albany.
Dealing with drug abuse, poverty, broken families are all issues and addressing those long-standing problems will also help stem the violence — but not this summer.
What Apple is doing will help now. And Albany needs help now.
If you have a heart attack on the way to the dentist, do you keep the appointment and get the cavity filled or do you do some triage to determine what is more important — a theoretical, ideological movement, or a boots on the ground approach like Colonie did and like Apple is doing.
Doing something like that in a “progressive” city like Albany takes some political courage, especially in an election year, and that is why it’s Apple doing it and not Hawkins and Sheehan and by extension the Albany police.
I don’t think the sheriff would just start doing this type of thing in Albany without being asked. This way, the two liberals can point to the sheriff as the militant bad guy and still get accomplished what even they know needs to be done before there is another Destiny Greene.
Jim Franco can be reached at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]