Worry in the Hills

Community policing will be the first focus of new Pine Hills Public Safety Committee

The Pine Hills Neighborhood Association announced the resurrection of its Public Safety Committee, with Todd Hunsinger as the newly appointed chair, in response to a recent rash of violence in the neighborhood.

“I think I speak for a lot of Pine Hills residents when I say that crime is keeping us up at night,” said Hunsinger. “The concern is that crime in Pine Hills is keeping the residents up but the chief of police and the mayor aren’t losing sleep over it.”

Hunsinger, who got involved with the PHNA at a public-safety forum this past winter, was approached by the association’s president, Daniel Curtis, in early March and offered the position.

Hunsinger said that he took the position for “a lot of selfish reasons” at the meeting last week. “My wife has a realtor coming tomorrow to appraise the house because she’s saying ‘Enough.’ Personally, I would like to stay.”

Hunsinger, along with many members of the community, are focusing on the role of police in reducing crime in the neighborhood.

“One of our big concerns right now is the way policing is done in this city,” Hunsinger said. “We want to see that change. It would be nice to see more of a police presence, the term that a lot of people use is ‘community policing.’ ”

Curtis agrees that community policing is important, but is just one aspect of improving safety in the area.

“There’s no silver bullet here,” Curtis said. “The only thing that we can do is hope to change attitudes, and we need to change a whole culture, and changing a culture is going to take more than one action.”

Hunsinger also acknowledged the larger societal issues at play.

“You hear the chief of police talk about how the schools need to do more and how, as communities, we need to do more in terms of the lives of these youth, which is certainly all true,” Hunsinger said. “But the immediate concern is for them to know that crime sprees are not a career or recreational option, and that’s only going to come through tougher policing and better community vigilance.”

When asked if he felt that the drinking culture in Pine Hills makes the neighborhood a target for crime, Hunsinger said, “Absolutely. That’s a big part of the issue. Pine Hills has basically become an importer of crime. Not only do we have kids on their BMX bikes coming out of West Hill to find easy prey, but people coming from other communities. The reality is a bunch of inebriated unsuspecting 21-year-olds stumbling around the streets become really easy prey.”

Hunsinger said that he and his family originally moved to Pine Hills to be in a walkable community. “All those positive attributes of living in Pine Hills are being denied to residents right now, and I think that’s why people are so frustrated.”

Residents expressed those frustrations at the meeting last Thursday where four Albany Common Council members, including James Scalzo, chair of the Public Safety Committee, were present to answer questions from residents, many of whom expressed dissatisfaction with the response from the city.

“I can’t accept that as an answer,” said one resident in response to Scalzo’s suggestion that residents refer to APD Pine Hills liaison Rick Romand as an effort to stop crime. “Every single police officer should respond the best way possible.”

Curtis said that the council members were prepared for tough questions, and that he felt it was important for them attend and speak with residents face-to-face.

“We had one council member [Glen Casey] not even show up for political reasons,” said Curtis, who felt that Casey did not attend because he has been criticized by the PHNA. “If you have a neighborhood association that is frustrated with you as a leader, then it would seem to me the best thing to do would be to come out and remind people of all the things you do in the community.”

Casey did not return a call for comment.

The PHNA Public Safety Committee is still in the development stages, and is working on recruiting members and meeting with other committee chairs to determine the best course of action.

“I’m just a college biology professor just looking to be a part of the solution,” Hunsinger said. “I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do claim to have a serious vested interest in the well-being of my family, including a 5-year-old daughter, to try to make the neighborhood a neighborhood and not Tuffey’s crime map. I don’t want to live in a crime map; I want to live in a community.”

Curtis also said that those interested could contribute by volunteering with the Midtown Neighborhood Watch. According to Curtis, some crime experts estimate that 100 to 200 volunteers are needed to properly patrol the streets; there are currently less than two dozen.

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