Albany Police spent the weekend responding to several shootings across the city, and now there’s concern about the increase in homicides compared to this time last year.
Monday, Police Chief Eric Hawkins commended his officers for handling a tense and dangerous situation in a busy part of the city over the weekend. But Albany Police Officers Union President Greg McGee says they need more officers on the street in order to keep everyone safe, including the officers themselves.
“I've been in law enforcement for 30 years, and what I saw from the dispatchers and police officers this weekend was among the finest piece of police work I've ever seen in my entire career,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said his officers handled a situation where many more people could have been injured or even killed during a shooting incident on Clinton Avenue on Saturday in which one man died. But in order to keep that fine police work up, the union said the city needs to take action to get more officers on the streets ASAP.
“They’re talking about doing a pretty large hiring class, we’ve heard anywhere from 40 to 50 hires, but that's all dependent on this new [training] building being done and in time,” said McGee said. “I know that the date keeps getting pushed back ... to possibly June now before we hire. Those officers won't make a difference on the street until December of this year, and they won't be on their own [to patrol] until 2021.”
McGee says criminals aren't worried about getting in too much trouble due to the state's oft-debated bail reform. Despite being understaffed and overworked, he wants other safety precautions for officers working in the city, especially following a violent weekend for officers in the Bronx and in other states like Tennessee, where a state trooper was shot during a routine traffic stop.
“Given the recent attacks in NYC, it's a war on police right now. There's absolutely zero fear on the criminal's part anymore, so to shoot outside a police station wouldn't even faze them,” McGee said. “At the very least, even though we don't have the staffing, at least let these guys ride with partners, so there's safety in numbers.”
McKee's post on the APOU's Facebook page says there is a 138 percent increase in shots fired incidents in the city compared to this time last year, and while he didn’t have the exact number on hand, Hawkins says that is true — and the number is up well over 100 recently. He says the police, local lawmakers, and others in the community are regularly coming together to work on a solution, because the city has seen two homicides already and it’s only mid-February. The city had just four homicides in 2019.
“In fact, we have another meeting this coming week,” Hawkins said. “It’s still cold outside, and typically this time of the year, we don't see this type of activity, so it's really gotten all of our attention ... and so we're sharing information and developing strategies together.”
In this weekend's incidents, Albany police say they got seven weapons off the streets. Chief Hawkins said it's unclear how many of the guns were obtained legally or illegally, since the serial numbers are removed from some of them, but they were all being used in an illegal way. Hawkins said they’ve taken about 15 guns off the streets already this year.