A day after Hamilton Hill residents told the Schenectady City Council that they’ve seen a sudden increase in gang members and drug dealers roaming certain streets, new Police Chief Mark R. Chaires is adding that data to the city’s crime map and using it to tweak the patrol schedule for the neighborhood.
He’s also adding data gleaned from the Hamilton Hill neighborhood groups and other activists.
“We’re going to come up with a plan based on all that data,” he said. “It will just take a matter of days to get it together.”
Chaires said resident Paul Stewart got his attention when he told the City Council that certain streets on Hamilton Hill had suddenly gotten much worse.
“There is an increase in young drug dealers and gang members walking the streets, looking for trouble. People are uncomfortable sending their children to the park or Hamilton Hill Arts Center,” Stewart said Monday. “We want increased law enforcement within a three-block radius of the park and the arts center and the Boys and Girls Club. You have children walking out of there and as soon as they do, they’re meeting drug dealers. This has to change.”
Chaires said police attempt to react to changing crime trends by tracking them through a computerized crime mapping program. While they would have changed their patrols eventually without the residents’ complaints, they will make the adjustments now.
“You can always make adjustments. Even though it’s a small area, things can fluctuate. Drug houses can open up. Things can change. You can’t set something into motion and leave it,” Chaires said.
He’s hoping that if he actively seeks out information for the crime map, residents will be more willing to provide information in the future.
“We gladly welcome their input. You cannot provide us with too much information,” he added, saying that although residents’ complaints may be inaccurate sometimes, they usually know their neighborhood better than anyone else.
Adjusting patrols won’t completely satisfy the residents who complained Monday. They wanted more patrols near the children’s centers on the Hill but also asked for daily foot and bike patrols. That, police officials say, is impossible at current staffing levels. Instead, they assign occasional walking patrols in most neighborhoods.
Residents also asked for a host of other actions at Monday’s council meeting. Their proposals, which were developed through a Weed and Seed meeting in June, generally focused on improving the Hamilton Hill-Vale area.
They asked the city to expand its summer programs at the parks and create a community center that would serve as the hub for all youth employment openings as well as all services and programs for youth.
They also asked the city to secure funding to develop a small grocery store in the neighborhood, negotiate with contractors to train residents for construction jobs and redevelop the dying business district on Brandywine Avenue.
They proposed a “food shuttle” to help low-income residents get to low-cost groceries so they wouldn’t have to buy food at the much more expensive corner stores, asked the council to increase support for the emergency food pantry and called for better lighting on the most crime-ridden street corners in hopes of deterring criminals.
They also asked the city to create an Office of Community Information and Advocacy, which would be designed to “attack” any negative media stories about the neighborhood.
Victoria Hurewitz, board president of Better Neighborhoods Inc., said the office is needed to help BNI sell several houses it renovated on Emmett Street.
“We have a lot of trouble marketing property in Hamilton Hill and we feel it’s possibly because of unfounded negative perceptions,” she said, adding that the media “contributes to the unjustified negative characterization” of Hamilton Hill.
Council members offered some support for the residents’ ideas.
“I believe a lot of good ideas were presented,” Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said. “Residents involved in their city and going to meetings make for a stronger city and I hope you’ll all be back.”
Councilman Mark Blanchfield said the youth employment center should be a city priority.
“Jobs for young people — we should really put that at the top of our list because that does lead to other things,” he said.