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Charles Ochie

I have been reading with great interest recent discussions in The Albany Herald by community leaders, city/county officials, policymakers and the business community of violent crimes in Albany, and I felt compelled to put on my Criminologist hat.

The discussions have focused on increasing and increasingly disturbing violent crimes in Albany, especially crimes against the business community, and the 16 shooting deaths that have rocked the city so far this year. Representatives of the business community have expressed deep and urgently concern about the increasing crime rates and its impact on public safety and the economy.

It was great to see these leaders seriously exchanging views about how to reduce crime in the city and the impact on the quality of life of citizens consequences impacting economic development. Some of the solutions outlined in these discussions include increasing police officers’ pay, hiring outside consultants to assess the Albany Police Department and to add precincts to provide community-orientated policing in areas with disproportionate rates of violent crimes. Other measures suggested include drug and gang issues, a gun buyback and the cutting-edge technology of gunshot-detection system that the chief rightly rebutted as having no direct link between the systems by itself leading to an overall reduction in violent crimes except when combined with other resources.

Suffice it to say that while we as citizens note with gratitude our leaders’ efforts to seek crime reduction measures, most criminologists who study crime and crime trends would conclude that those measures perhaps fall short of what is needed to curb violent crimes a city like Albany. These measures are too focused on police-related efforts — what police are doing, not doing or can/cannot do, or a political process that feels good/sounds good, like gun buy-back, but delivers little.

We believe that these measures will not be as effective as people think in reducing crimes. With all due respect to the police, which I support fully and support full funding with diversifications, there appears to be belief held by many that police have all the tools needed to solving all crimes. Not quite. We believe that police are not capable of preventing/solving all crimes without serious external resource interjections.

Police are a reactive force, not a proactive one. Usually, crime has already taken place before their arrival. If you want to talk about the 16 shooting deaths that have occurred so far this year, what do you think police could have done to prevent any of those deaths? Absolutely nothing. The shootings already took place at homes or dwellings before police arrived or were called.

Police have absolutely nothing to do with what happens at people’s homes. Police cannot be everywhere at all times and cannot control/predict what people do at home, how people feel, what is boiling in their heads, the anger, frustration, apathy, anomic conditions at home, isolation, and social and economic deprivation, severe poverty and hunger, gang violence, mental disorder and on and on. If police had all the answers and crime-reducing measures, Albany and surrounding areas would have been crime-free, considering the number of police/law enforcement entities in this area.

So we definitely need the police, and I strongly support any suggestion of pay increase or whatever we can to improve their welfare because we all can agree that their job is a dangerous one that deserves good pay. However, the burden we put on them for being responsible for solving/preventing all society crimes is absolutely unrealistic. They alone are not able to eradicate or reduce crimes as we all would like and there is a need to explore other fundamental measures and incorporate those in these discussions.

While police are a significant part of the solution, community leaders, policymakers, and business leaders must join hands and begin to explore and examine the fundamental key issues rooted in the community that breed crime. These fundamental issues, coupled with those measures suggested earlier in local discussions, could provide some reduction in crime.

Part of those fundamental community-rooted issues include the existence of significant number of idle youths in our community. They are in gangs, they are our neighbors, not employed, not in school and not involved in any meaningful activities. Go figure what they are doing. They are potential dangers to all of us in a number of ways.

Our community must find some resources to tackle/manage these youths one way or another and provide some positive ways out of their predicament. We are talking about hundreds of youths who have lost their direction, are frustrated, living under a culture of perpetual poverty, alienated from mainstream society and feel deprived, living in a stratified society/city, feeling discriminated against, with little hope. They still want to live the American Dream but are operating from a socially disorganized environment.

The community must find ways to rescue this group, and this needs to happen soon, as they continue to reproduce themselves and make life and living unbearable for us all. Police cannot solve this problem alone; they’re not equipped for that.

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the crime situation will continue to deteriorate, and we don’t want today’s children to become tomorrow’s criminals. Community leaders, city/county and business leaders must come together and look for resources to invest in these youths. Solutions can be sought by mobilizing them and investing in job training and compensations/enticing packages will be needed to bring them to a situation where their eyes can open. This has been done in some cities with great success, but it will take both community and business leaders working together and contributing resources to the program.

Charles Ochie is a professor of Criminal Justice and the executive director of Albany State University Graduate School.

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