County exec says he’ll spend millions to stop Albany shootings, seeks buy-in from community

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“For people to have respect and pride in their neighborhood, it needs to be cleaned up,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple who now has 24 officers a day stationed in the city.

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy says the county will spend millions of dollars to deal with the gun violence that has erupted in the city of Albany in the last month.

“The time for talking is done,” he said at his Friday morning press briefing. “The time for action is here.”

“We need buy-in,” McCoy said, calling on the community “to turn things around and give kids an opportunity.”

Even though, with the economic shutdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Albany County is currently facing a $35 million debt — which could well get worse, McCoy said — he will ask the county legislature for $1 million, $2 million, or $3 million.

“If I have to borrow money, I’m gonna borrow it,” he said.

McCoy started his Friday briefing, as always, with the latest county tallies on COVID-19 and said later, as he has said frequently since March, “The residents’ safety and health are the first and foremost priority as county executive.  Same thing in this,” he said of ending the shootings in Albany.

He went on, “It’s a community that has been underserved for generations.” He asked, for example, why public housing is built in the less desirable parts of the city.

The month of violence was intertwined with protests calling for police reform and racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

McCoy spoke on Friday of a video he watched taken by cameras at the county’s mental-health headquarters, and likened the video to what he’d seen in Iraq where he was stationed with the National Guard.

“To see it on your own streets. To watch someone get executed like this in broad daylight, at 1:30 in the afternoon, is disturbing,” he said.

On Wednesday, June 24, McCoy, responding to the shooting on South Pearl Street, had closed the county’s office buildings in the vicinity — for the departments of health, mental health, child advocacy, and the board of elections — to protect county workers.

On Friday, McCoy noted that, based on 2017 crime data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Albany is ranked as the eighth most dangerous city in upstate New York. July, he said, is typically the most violent month.


Sheriff’s view

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said that his office is now stationing 24 officers a day in the city.

“We’re going to maintain that level indefinitely,” he said. Apple complimented the professionalism of the Albany Police Department and said his office is assisting just because the city police department is short-staffed.

“City residents pay county taxes as well, so we’re here … We’re not going anywhere until they say they’re all set,” said Apple.

He noted the boarded-up businesses in some Albany neighborhoods and said, “For people to have respect and pride in their neighborhood, it needs to be cleaned up.” Once neighborhoods are safe and clean, Apple said, “I think people will come back and businesses will open.”

While he said every municipality is hurting as COVID wiped out budgets, Apple concluded, “The bottom line is we just need to get a grip on the crime.”

Asked if policing had stopped with COVID, Apple said that call volume had been down and not as many tickets were written, for both police and public safety. “People were hibernating and staying safe,” he said, stressing, “Everyone is pointing fingers. Put it aside.”

Asked about personal responsibility in the recent wave of city shootings, Apple said, “We have to get back to being parents.” Personal accountability needs to be restored, he said, stating, “A lot of it starts right in the home.”

Some people don’t know how to be parents, Apple said; rather, they want to be buddies. “A lot of these shooters are young, real young,” he said.

Because stop-and-frisk procedures “went away,” he said, “Now they’re brazen. They have no fear.” Apple also said that bail reform “puts a damper on things.”

Tensions are hot, Apple said, and social-media wars are ongoing.

With a movement to “defund police,” Apple said, the push is to reallocate funds to pay for social workers and mental-health workers.

“We’re already doing that,” said Apple, noting he has social workers on his staff as well as five psychologists who donate their time. “Nobody wants to sit down and listen to us,” he said of those demanding police reform.


“Buy in”

McCoy outlined a number of programs already offered by Albany County such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, known as LEAD that attempts to address issues like mental health, addiction, and poverty. A $900,000 grant has been applied for to bolser that program and the county is currently interviewing for a director of community engagement coordinator to head LEAD.

Last year, McCoy said, he brought together the Zero Youth Detention Taskforce, which is chaired by Alice Green, to connect kids to programs that can help them. “It’s proven, if you stop a kid from getting into trouble … that kid has a better opportunity to make it in life,” said McCoy.

He also said, “We do have a gang problem here in the city. We need to give kids a better opportunity to move forward.”

The county’s mobile crisis team will be dispatched for residents suffering from trauma caused by violence, McCoy said. He urged them also to use the county’s free mental-health support line. The shootings on top of COVID-19, he said, have made people afraid to go out.

Local colleges and universities will work to tutor students in math, reading, and writing McCoy said, so students who have fallen behind can be successful once schools reopen.

McCoy listed other county programs such as those offered by the Parks and Recreation Department, summer youth employment, and camp programs at Lawson Lake.

The sheriff spoke about a program at the county jail where inmates record stories so their children can listen and feel part of a family.

 He also mentioned sports programs funded by forfeiture funds, taken from arrested drug dealers. “You don’t need part of a gang. You need part of a team,” said Apple, urging, “Be part of something good.”

McCoy urged people who want to”buy in” to solving the city’s problems to call 518-447-7040.

“We need to stop the gun violence and take back our neighborhoods — not just say it … We need tangible results,” said McCoy.

He also said, “We need the buy-in from the community. I don’t want to be another white politician that goes into the community and tells you what you need. I need you to tell us.”

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