Schenectady County

Rash of recent gunfire blamed on ‘vendettas’

City residents are resolving personal disagreements by shooting each other, Public Safety Commission
PHOTOGRAPHER:

City residents are resolving personal disagreements by shooting each other, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett told the City Council Monday, reporting on an alarming rise in gunfire incidents.

“It is personal vendettas,” he said. “This is not the result of any kind of drug war between New York City and Schenectady.”

But because the violence is not organized, police are somewhat at a loss as to how to stop it. There’s no pattern showing police where or when to focus their efforts, Bennett said.

“There’s no consistency. We crime-mapped all these cases. There’s nothing here,” Bennett said. “That makes it even more difficult, because you’re looking at a 24-hour approach.”

Police have been responding to calls for shots fired nearly every day in the past eight weeks. Several people have been injured, and a man was killed early this month.

Since police can’t predict when the next dispute will escalate to gunfire, Bennett asked the state police to send troopers to the city last week to help flood the city with law enforcement.

Now he’s in discussions with the state to keep the troopers here for the foreseeable future, he told the council.

He also reorganized the department to send most officers out on patrol. Since the reorganization and the trooper deployment last Wednesday evening, there have been no confirmed shots-fired incidents, he said.

But police were investigating a report of shots fired Monday night and Bennett warned that it’s far too soon to assume his changes have had an effect.

“Since last Wednesday, it’s been relatively quiet,” Bennett said. “Obviously we cannot be comforted by that fact.”

But a man who was severely beaten while walking home from work two weeks ago said he was not impressed by the actions.

Anthony Ackerman Sr., who was assaulted by some 30 youths, told the City Council Monday that he will run for council and then change the police department to solve the crime problem.

“This council doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said. “We’re going to reorganize this city.”

The next time a council seat is up for election is 2009.

WORKING WITH POLICE

To get more officers on the streets, Bennett has now asked his entire department to voluntarily refrain from taking days off for compensatory leave, which is earned through overtime work. Bennett said police union President Robert Hamilton agreed to support him in that request, even though the two men disagree over whether compensatory time should be offered at all in the future.

Hamilton did not return a call seeking comment, but Bennett said Hamilton agreed to a temporary truce.

“He understands the crisis we’re in now,” Bennett said. “If the police officers that are scheduled to work decide to take compensatory time, which they are entitled to take, it puts the other officers at increased danger, and of course everyone in the city.”

He also said the police still aren’t getting the support they need from residents.

Just one witness is cooperating with the police with the last shots-fired incident, which left a bullet hole in a car parked at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center last Wednesday, he said.

“The person fired three shots, walked one block, got on a bike and rode away. This was in broad daylight. We have one person willing to talk with us,” Bennett said in disgust.

Parole and probation officers are now trying to get their clients to talk, he added, calling them an untapped resource that could produce results.

Bennett will soon be talking with his own untapped resource — his patrol officers. They have organized into what Bennett called “a representative body” that covers beat officers from every shift. The group is now choosing leaders to bring their suggestions to Bennett.

Bennett said he welcomes the group and expects no difficulty from the police union over the development of what might be considered an informal secondary union in the department.

“They’re all union. They represent these people. I’d imagine they’d be glad their members were being listened to,” Bennett said.

But he added that the group may not have been happy with its union representation.

“I had some street officers feel that perhaps sometimes they might get lost in the discussions,” Bennett said. “They’re creating their representative team. I welcome their input.”

The city is also hosting a community forum today so that Hamilton Hill and Vale neighborhood residents can discuss the violence. The Koinonia Christian Center and Schenectady Weed and Seed organized the session and hope to moderate a discussion on how to stop the crime wave.

The forum will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Christ Church, 970 State St.

Categories: Schenectady County

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