ALBANY — When James Pratt Jr. addressed the Albany City Commission at that board’s most recent meeting to talk about formation of a more structured citizen-led Gang Task Force, he wasn’t just engaging in wishful thinking.
Pratt, an Albany native who is in his hometown to gather information for his University of California-Irvine dissertation, part of which involves “Understanding the Concept of Violence,” has been in “the ‘hoods and the more elitist spaces” of Albany for the past three years, gathering information. He’s talked with city leaders and others whose names he can’t divulge in an effort to gather any pertinent information.
“In the time I’ve been back here doing research, I’ve definitely been drawn deeper into the community,” Pratt, who is also teaching classes as an adjunct Criminal Justice professor at Albany State University, said.
“My parents made sure when I was growing up that I was involved in the things that were going on in the community.
“Now that I’ve been back here almost three years, I’ve found ways to dig deeper into these issues that, unfortunately, continue to plague our community.”
Pratt asked city officials to create a structured Criminal Gang Network of Action Task Force that would make the informal Gang Task Force developed by Ward I Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard more effective. One of the primary problems with the body’s current format, Pratt said, is that a considerable amount of misinformation is spread.
“Unfortunately, as is often the case with unstructured groups like this, there sometimes ends up being more harm than good that comes out of meetings,” Pratt, who has attended Gang Task Force meetings “for the last six or seven months,” said. “You have people who come in to politic, and they say things that are inaccurate and unsupported.”
Pratt provided commissioners an outline for development of his proposed C-GNAT. Some of the goals in the outline include:
♦ To inform, educate and organize citizens to help diminish the harm the community receives from criminal gang activity;
♦ Diminish the likelihood of gang membership and participation;
♦ Help decrease gang violence and property crime rate in the community;
♦ Develop a stronger network of trust among community stakeholders, including citizens, educators, business owners, law enforcement and youths; and
♦ Define the economic and social impact of gang activity.
Pratt asked commissioners to approve his gang unit proposal and to supply an “administrative assistant” who would take notes and serve as something of a liaison who will help keep city officials, law enforcement and citizens informed about the proposed C-GNAT meetings.
“We’re not talking about a lot of money at all,” Pratt said. “This person could even be someone already on staff who takes on extra duties. It would take no more than five to 10 hours a week, an additional $2,000 to $5,000 (over the course of a year).”
Pratt’s proposal calls for information supplied by local law enforcement personnel, who are, he said, “on the frontlines and are often the most informed bodies,” as well as personnel in the prosecutor’s office.
He also suggested that media sources should be part of the meetings to ensure increased awareness.
“I’ve talked with (Albany Police) Chief (Michael) Persley, and I’ve emailed the city manager (Sharon Subadan) and City Commissioners a copy of my proposal,” Pratt said. “I hope to schedule some meetings with them so that we can move forward with this process.
“Albany does have issues with crime, but it’s important that we have nuance when discussing (criminals). A lot of people look at this group or that as all good or all bad. And Albany does have a history that includes racial and class disagreements. But the way you start to deal with the issues we have is to talk about them.”