Schenectady County

Join to fight crime, Schenectady City Council urges

Not too long ago, the most common complaint in the Union College neighborhood was that students were

Not too long ago, the most common complaint in the Union College neighborhood was that students were too loud and rowdy at night. But now, those very students are joining ranks with their sober neighbors to drive out a far more serious problem: criminals.

The neighborhood was hit hard recently. First, burglars targeted student apartments during their winter break. So many houses were burglarized that students on vacation called their landlords just to make sure their possessions were still safe.

Then, after the students returned, there was a rash of car burglaries. Students left laptops, purses and cellphones in their cars, and thieves broke windows or found unlocked doors to get at the expensive goods.

Police have suspects in the house break-ins, but not the car burglaries. So little evidence is left behind in those cases that they’re tough to solve without a witness, Council President Gary McCarthy said. He should know — in his day job, he investigates cases in preparation for prosecution by the district attorney’s office.

The college is taking the burglaries so seriously that it sent its assistant director of public safety to the City Council meeting Monday to discuss solutions. The public safety director is meeting with the city’s neighborhood watch today.

The goal is two-fold; to develop a better way of catching or deterring criminals while also convincing college students that they must take common-sense steps to protect themselves and their property.

To accomplish the first, the college is seeking funding to expand the camera program onto the residential streets most used by student-tenants: University Place, Gillespie Street and surrounding areas.

That may take months — or years. To address the immediate problem, city and college officials want neighborhood watch members to patrol.

“Hopefully, you can catch the people that are doing it,” McCarthy said.

But that means members must be willing to brave the cold and slippery winter conditions. Even if residents stay alert, they are unlikely to notice a crime unless they are outside, college Assistant Director of Public Safety Tom Constantine said.

“It’s a tough time of year. Windows are closed. Furnaces are on. Residents aren’t hearing if someone’s breaking into a car in front of their residence,” he said.

Neighbors are willing to help, resident James Livingston told him at Monday’s meeting.

“I don’t know anything about neighborhood watch, and neither does anyone in the neighborhood,” he said. “But we have 25 [active residents] and we would be glad to have a meeting.”

Police Chief Mark Chaires also hopes to get the students to lock up their valuables and take other small steps to deter crime. He wants to show students the neighborhood’s crime stats each month to impress upon them the need to be careful.

“Like any predator, they steal where they know things are accessible,” he said.

Neighborhood Watch President Fred Lee said the first step to fighting crime is to cut off as much of its access as possible.

“If you simply take responsibility for your own home and automobile, that’s an important slice,” he said.

He wants to set up a joint watch group in the neighborhood, either with the students and full-time residents patrolling separately or together. Having just students on patrol is ineffective because the patrol would cease during all school vacations.

But he’d like to have more than just full-time residents on the patrol. He suggested that if the students and their neighbors work together, they could form a relationship that overcomes some of the previous disputes over rowdy parties and other quality of life complaints.

“The students who come here, we’d like to have them embrace the city as their own,” Lee said. “By the same token, we need to get the neighbors involved.”

In other business, the council heard an update on the CDTA bus rapid transit route, which will run along State Street between Schenectady and Albany.

The Department of Transportation has agreed to lease two fiber optic cables to CDTA for real-time updates in each bus stop along the route, Signal Control Superintendent John Coluccio said.

The updates would show the precise location and the predicted arrival time of each bus.

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