GLOVERSVILLE – Nobody knocks on a door quite like a police office, and up and down Allen Street Friday evening the sound of those knocks could be heard for hours.
But, unlike the typical reasons police often come to people’s homes, the reason for these knocks was usual — the Gloversville Police Department’s first Neighborhood Engagement Unit operation of 2021.
Teams of police and community groups went door-to-door Thursday talking to city residents, offering literature about how to access community services, providing Narcan training and offering ice cream cone gift certificates from Stewart’s Shops.
Gloversville police officer and school resource officer, Chris Percetti, was one of the officers going door-to-door on Allen Street Friday. He was accompanied by Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr., Rob Constantine Recovery Community and Outreach Center Director Ginger Cato and Gloversville Enlarged School District Family and community Educator Andrew Slezak.
“Our Police Department started this Neighborhood Engagement Unit several years ago, and part of our goal was to connect with the city, so we got together with several other organizations,” Percetti said. “Not everybody in the city has access to this information, and it’s a good way to build relationships with the community.”
The engagement operation comes at a time when there have been several well-publicized criminal incidents in Gloversville, including the May 6 shooting of a bystander during a conflict between two other individuals on North Main Street, the April 24 stabbing death of 59-year-old William J. Guzek and the ongoing murder trial in the case of city resident Allyzibeth A. Lamont, whose body was found in Saratoga County in 2019.
Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay said he had hoped to have a series of Neighborhood Engagement Unit operations in 2020 like the one held in the neighborhoods in the city’s 3rd Ward Thursday, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and most of those activities were scrapped. The hub of Thursday’s engagement operation was at the Elk Street Playground, where the city’s “Cage” basketball court is located. Joining Clay and Mayor Vince DeSantis were Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown and organizations like the city Fire Department, the Gloversville Free Methodist Church, the HFM Preventions Council, the Fulmont Community Action Agency, Planned Parenthood, ASAPP’s Promise of Fulton County and I can Breath and I will Speak. Those groups and others set up tables at the playground’s park and connected with members of the public.
Clay said he tries to be an optimist, but he knows community outreach won’t end all crimes in the city. He said it’s one way of achieving “small victories,” connecting people with services that help them improve their lives and stay out of trouble, and he hopes those small victories add up over time to help improve the quality of life in Gloversville.
“This is about helping to connect people with services that are better suited to their needs than the Police Department,” he said. “We’ve got some people calling the Police Department, on a regular basis, for non-police issues, over and over again, almost to the point where we’ve got a hand in managing their life, so we’ve identified that there are a lot better resources for them, and we want to bring them together.”
Lashawn Hawkins, an announced candidate for councilperson-at-large and the creator of the nonprofit organization I can Breath and I will Speak, said she was part of the Zoom meetings that organized the outreach event. She said five Narcan trainings were completed Thursday because of the event. She said the Police Department plans to sponsor an outreach event at each of the city’s six wards over the course of the summer.
Hawkins, who came to prominence as a Black Lives Matter activist over the summer of 2020, said community outreach is a vital part of creating a successful relationship between law enforcement and the public.
“It’s a way to bring the Police Department into the community in a positive light,” she said.
Rowback, a retired firefighter, helped lead the way on many of the door-to-door visits with the police Thursday.
“It’s about availability, all of the different avenues for people to get the information that’s available — whether it’s food stamps, Narcan training, depression, home weatherization, all of that kind of stuff is available — but a lot of people don’t know how to check those avenues out, so we’re bringing it to them,” Rowback said. “With these different groups coming out with the Police Department it shows that we can all get along well and there’s avenues for people to take rather than going down along the wrong path.”
DeSantis said he was pleased with the turnout of members of the public, particularly neighborhood children who were given an opportunity to interact with the police in a positive way.
“You know every family has challenges, and we want them to feel comfortable in reaching out, not only to the city government, but all of these other nonprofit agencies that provide these services,” DeSantis said. “Our police chief who brainstormed this whole thing, neighborhood engagement, and police are much more effective when they are trusted, and they know people on a first-name basis in the neighborhoods, so it’s community policing at its best.”
Some of the Narcan training Thursday was conducted by Cato, including one instance in which she persuaded a car to pull over and have the driver listen to her training from behind the wheel. She said the training has the ability to save lives.
“This is a very condensed version of our usual Narcan training, but we just need to show people how to recognize what Narcan is, how to recognize somebody who is overdosing and how to respond and administer Narcan,” she said. “Especially in the city of Gloversville, there is a large opioid problem, not just heroin, but other drugs are being laced with fentanyl, which is an opioid, so if we can get Narcan into the hands of as many people as possible — it’s about saving lives.”