Eddie Stanley’s tragic shooting death in 2011 has prompted an effort some are hoping will be an answer to reducing illegal gun crimes in Schenectady’s poorest neighborhoods.
Community leaders are in the final stages of arranging what they’re describing as a sustainable gun buyback program aimed to get a variety of lethal and non-lethal weapons off the street — unregistered guns like the one prosecutors believe was used to cut short the life of the 15-year-old Schenectady High School basketball player at a late-night party last summer.
Discussions arising in the aftermath of Stanley’s death suggested that such a program would help, provided it was ongoing and conducted in tandem with other efforts to reduce street crime. The Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department will fund the program using $10,000 in asset forfeitures with a goal of pulling roughly 30 guns off the streets next year.
Starting next month, gift cards worth between $25 and $250 will be pursed out for the weapons, depending on what type is surrendered. Anyone bringing in a non-working weapon or something non-lethal such as a pellet or BB gun will be awarded a $25 gift card, while functioning rifles will earn a $100 gift card.
Working handguns will garner a $200 gift card, while an assault rifle will bring a $250 gift card.
“We feel it’s money well spent if we can reduce the number of guns out on the street,” Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said.
But the program will also include a degree of accountability for those who are exchanging the guns. Anyone turning in a weapon and expecting to get anything over the minimum $25 gift card will also need to provide authorities with some basic information, such as their identity and how they obtained the weapon.
“If there’s a willingness to share some information about the weapon that is useful or actionable information, that should warrant a bigger reward,” said county Legislator Gary Hughes, who is among the program’s proponents.
Dagostino said the crucial element of the program is that it will be based within community organizations in the city’s Mont Pleasant, Vale and Hamilton Hill neighborhoods. He said buyback dates will be regularly scheduled each month so that the program can take root in the community and be regularly utilized to help reduce the number of weapons circulating in neighborhoods where there is a statistically high number of gunfire reports each year.
The city has record about 500 reports of gunfire over five years ending in 2011. Dagostino said a very high percentage of these incidents occurred in Mont Pleasant, Vale or Hamilton Hill.
“There’s a big cluster in those particular neighborhoods,” he said.
In addition to involving local law enforcement agencies, the effort is also relying on cooperation from a number of community and faith-based organizations. Already, Dagostino is involving the city’s chapter of the NAACP, the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, the Craig Street Boys and Girls Club and the Carver Community Center.
“We felt that we needed to reach out to these groups because they’re ultimately the people who are interacting with the community,” he said
The sheriff’s department is planning an information campaign about the program during a peace rally in Jerry Burrell Park next month. The first buyback will be hosted at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center on June 23.
Schenectady has had limited success with gun buyback programs in the past. Pastor Charlie Muller of Victory Christian Church in Albany last attempted to start a program in October 2008, after experiencing a degree of success in the capital.
But the program never seemed to take root in Schenectady. Dagostino said the crucial difference this time is that the program is self-sustaining, meaning it can be allowed to grow within the community.
“The only way we’re going to know that is to go out and do it,” he said.
County District Attorney Robert Carney said getting even a few of the illegal guns off the street should help reduce some of the violence. He said making the buyback an institution should give families tired of gun violence an outlet to dispose of weapons they know to exist in the community.
“This won’t solve our problems, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.