Schenectady County

County mulls amnesty on illegal guns

The county may roll out a gun amnesty program this spring as part of a Stop The Silence summit in Sc

The county may roll out a gun amnesty program this spring as part of a Stop The Silence summit in Schenectady, District Attorney Robert Carney said.

Several church leaders have asked for an amnesty program to reduce the number of guns on the street, Carney said. He expects that many parents would confiscate their children’s illegal guns if they were assured that no one would be prosecuted.

“The churches are interested in the possibility of a gun amnesty program. We think that is an appropriate part of this,” Carney said.

But the program would be limited.

“We’re not talking about paying people,” Carney said. “We’re willing to give amnesty for possession of the weapon.”

Illegal gun possession charges range from a misdemeanor to a class C felony with a prison term of up to 15 years. Although owners would escape possession charges, they wouldn’t get amnesty for any crimes committed with their weapon, Carney added.

“You can’t turn in a murder weapon and expect to get immunity from it,” Carney said.

The amnesty program is still in development, as is the rest of the proposed summit, which is intended to encourage residents to speak up when they witness a crime.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton proposed a summit after two murders occurred last September among dozens of witnesses, all of whom refused to speak with police. They said they didn’t want to snitch, even though they weren’t involved in the crime. Police later got some witnesses to talk but have not made any arrests.

Stratton had hoped to run the summit before Jan. 1, but officials now hope it will happen this spring.

“I’m still working on it,” Stratton said. “It’s a very important thing. It’s just taking more time to pull it together.”

He and Carney want Ronald Moten to speak at the summit, but haven’t yet heard whether he’s willing to come to Schenectady. Moten is co-founder of Peaceoholics, an anti-violence organization in Washington, D.C., and specifically addresses the issue of snitching in his talks. He emphasizes that residents aren’t snitching if they help police catch criminals in their neighborhood. They’re making their community safer.

Carney has made the same argument in Schenectady, saying that there’s a difference between being an innocent witness to a crime and being a criminal participant who talks to police in exchange for a lesser sentence.

“There’s a big difference between cooperating with police on witnessing a crime and cooperating with police to turn in your accomplices,” he said.


Stratton also wants to build a sense of confidence in the police.

Some residents who are willing to help police say they have been targeted by criminals who punish them for speaking to officers. In many cases, criminals learn who is reporting crimes to police because dispatchers announce callers’ names and addresses over the police radios. Patrol car radios can be clearly heard on the street while police handle a call, allowing the suspects to hear the names of their accusers. Sometimes dispatchers specify the witness’s name and address and then add that the witness wants to be anonymous.

Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said there’s no way to grant those callers true anonymity.

“People have to understand, when they call in certain forms of emergencies, like gunfire, it’s just there’s no way you can do this [anonymously]. You just can’t guarantee you can keep people’s identity anonymous,” Bennett said. “That’s the hard and fast truth of the work we do.”

He said officers will try to offer anonymity. After a gunshot killing on Sept. 13 on a busy daylight street on Hamilton Hill, officers handed out phone numbers and offered to talk to witnesses by phone so no one would know they had “snitched.” But on emergency calls, officers usually go straight to the caller’s house, revealing the caller immediately.

“To the degree possible, we’ll try to protect people’s identity,” Bennett said, but he added that police must confirm details gathered in a 911 call and interview witnesses at once in preparation for a possible trial.

He said residents must not let publicity deter them.

“It also has a risk if you don’t say anything. You could be the next victim. Look at the price you pay if you don’t report,” he said, arguing that “the price of silence” is letting killers roam the street.

Carney said an important part of the summit will be educating residents about witness protection programs offered at the county level.

“We want to try to educate the community,” he said. “If there’s fear, we have some resources to deal with that — if it’s real, if there is a risk.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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