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Plagued By the Bell

Post-dismissal behavoir of Hackett Middle School students disrupts nearby business district

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on February 23, 2011 · 2 comments

Around 3 PM last Thursday, about 10 kids hung out in front of Dino’s Pizzeria on the corner of Lark and Madison in Albany. Some of them shouted obscenities at each other, others were slapping and punching, still others fashioned dirty ice into snowballs. Inside, one of the group was buying a slice of pizza. A snowball whizzed by another customer. Its target wasn’t the kid, but an employee. Dirty ice exploded in the shop, hitting the cash register, customers and employees and falling over the slices of pizza at the counter. An employee rushed to shoo the kids away. They hurled more ice at him and cursed him. Soon he was on the phone screaming for the police to come—his sweatshirt plastered in dirty snow.

“A lot of places are having issues with the kids,” said a Madison Avenue retailer who has worked down the street from Hackett Middle School for nine years and asked to remain anonymous. “They’re around at dismissal. I think it’s gotten worse over the last three or four years. Even the police officers can’t be in more than one place at one time.”
Vandalizing, shoplifting and cursing, the liberated students harass customers and workers, merchants say, driving away business in stores and restaurants along Lark Street, and Delaware and Madison Avenues. In winter, they throw snowballs at each other and toss them inside stores. When the weather warms up, they brawl. Storekeepers complain that they are loud, obnoxious, disrespectful and violent.
One market manager, who tried to apprehend a shoplifter, said the youth cut him attempting to get out the store door.

“Three times they hit me, and one time the one guy he used something and cut my finger, he said. “Several times, I’ve called 911. It’s still the same problem. Almost every store they go inside. How will we do business?”

Rowdy youths congregate in the parking lot of Dunbrook Mobil on Madison Avenue, said cashier Josh Flye.

“Everyone’s losing patience with these kids,” said Flye. “They’re always fighting and swearing and throwing stuff at cars. Once it starts warming up, there are cops arresting little kids two or three times a week. A lot of times they just break up the fight and the kids run off, but I’ve seen a couple of them handcuffed. They come in and steal stuff once in a while, and I chase them out of the store. They’re pretty slick.”

“They’re terrorizing the neighborhood,” said a Lark Street business owner, who didn’t want to use his name because of possible repercussions.

“I once saw them hitting a pigeon with a stick,” he said. “They think it’s a playground in here. I have to kick them out. They come pulling at the door, and I’ll run out and chase them away. There’s nobody really controlling these kids. Until someone gets hurt or somebody does something that’s really bad, these kids are going to keep doing it.”

Many merchants hide indoors.
The Ben & Jerry’s Scoop ice cream shop on Lark Street gets swamped with requests for free samples each school day.
“All of a sudden 10 or 15 kids are rushing through the door screaming,” said scoop shop co-owner Rich Wilson. “I’ve actually been here when kids come in here to get towels because they’re bleeding because they’ve been in fights.”

Co-owner Mike Sperduto said youngsters have been known to “tag things with spray paint, leave garbage around and snap branches off trees.”

School officials plan to attend a March 7 meeting with members of the Lark Street Business Improvement District “to talk about exactly these issues,” said Albany City Schools spokesman Ron Lesko.
Mary Spinelli, executive director of the Lark Street Business Improvement District, confirmed plans to meet on March 7 with Hackett Middle School Principal Michael Paolino.

“These are the times when it’s critical for everyone to work together—the schools, the business owners, the police department and the families,” Lesko said. “It has to be a community effort.”
At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, there was “a lot of disruption in some of those neighborhoods,” Lesko said.

“We worked very closely with police and families, talking about what is and what is not appropriate behavior,” he said. “It certainly is not the majority of students from any school. There are a lot of after-school programs and activities that the kids can choose to get involved in, but not everyone does. There are students who can’t keep themselves out of trouble sometimes, no matter what efforts the community makes to try and keep them on the straight and narrow.”

James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Police, said he was unaware of any recent complaints about “the Hackett kids.” From time to time, there are calls to the school for dismissal problems,” he said. Since September, there have been only a handful of calls in the area for problems with students, he said.

For several years, the Albany Police Department has been working with the school district to keep an eye on what occurs after the middle-school children leave campus, said Miller. The new beat patrol for that neighborhood and other officers monitor the dismissal so there are no fights, rowdy students or other incidents, he said.

And although they are minors, he added, children can be arrested if they commit a criminal act.

“Even if they aren’t involved in a crime but their behavior is very unruly, the officer can take the child to our Children and Family Services Unit and have the parents/guardian come to pick their child up,” he said.


zureepa February 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm

As a resident of Albany's Washington Ave for some time, I have noticed many, many different after school children and teens engaging in similar behavior.

While the weather is nice enough for sweatshirts, McDonald's on Central Ave was a hot spot for fights. I can remember seeing close to 100 students gathered in the parking lot, seemingly to fight. Police would come and break it up as a wave of teens fled the area. This occurred DAILY.

As a result of living on a busy street, and mere blocks away from Albany High School, I witnessed students fighting, throwing anything they could grab, tipping over lawn and leaf bags as well as trash canisters, drug abuse (right on the sidewalk as they walked "home"), sexual harassment and the list goes on.

I began to avoid areas where I knew students would be out of fear that I would be taunted or jumped for fun, and stayed inside during times students would be heading to and from school.

I don't believe that the police department of Albany has enough officers to monitor and patrol the streets for something as trivial as "Making sure teens get home/school safely". The school isn't able to monitor students after they leave the school. So, who is to blame?

I can remember my school days. I wasn't a model student, and I wasn't winning awards for citizenship. But I know that I didn't take part in the activities students are involved in today.

After school programs fail for a reason. Teens don't want to spend more time at school, especially when their friends are out having "fun". Bottom line, parents are responsible for their children.

SCLARK February 28, 2011 at 8:40 am

Thank you for your article on those little darlings from Hackett M.S. I have had the same experience with them as they make their way down Slingerlands Ave to Second Ave and then East on Second Ave.

I have been a homeowner on Boenau Street since 1994. It has been a yearly battle and negotiation to minimize the traffic climbing over my fence. A neighbor's fence at 34 Boenau is on the ground another neighbors at 36 has been snapped in two and is close to coming down. . Rather than walk down Morton Ave, the kids rather take Slingerlands to S Dove. They follow the rightfield fence of the softball field to South Dove St toward Moore and climb the fences of properties a t 36 – 32 Boenau Street. They then walk North to the dead end of Boenau and down the hill. On the way they vandalize the curb side mail boxes. (they like to pull them open during rain storms after mail has been delivered)

In the early years I used to complain to Albany Police. I received varied responsdes from "that is what kids do" to one officer offering that he's 'had to replace his fence a few times so what's my problem'. I've even taking to sitting in my car in my driveway facing the back of my house from 3-6. I chained my two fence gates. Both are now broken off the hinges (they just climbed over them). So I'm not sure how James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Police, can say that he was "unaware of any recent complaints about “the Hackett kids.”
A few years back I attended a Second Ave residents association meeting where they were congratulating themselves for paving a sidewalk that leads to the right field fence. Former police chief Tuffey was in attendance and promised action. That was six years ago. I was asked if I wanted the kids arrested. I said no, that I just wanted the behavior to stop.

These are kids from the same school that in 2005, harassed 14 year old Gretchen Perham to the point that the principal had to let her leave early and come to school early to avoid kids that resented her just because, by most accounts, she took pride in getting an education rather than the thug life these kids seem to favor. Maybe if they had not forced her to seek isolation for her own safety she would not have been caught in a vulnerable position. Parents need to be held more responsible for the actions of their kids.

Community leaders need to come up with more than accusations that the APD is unfairly criminalizing these kids. …Or offering slogans like "make lemonade from lemons". Most of the homeowners I know are fed up and are moving out when they can. If City HAll, APD, community leaders want Albany, Pine Hills and the South End to become all renters with little or no owner occupied homes, keep ignoring the problem. I've resisted the homeowner flight from Albany up to Colonie, Delmar and up the Northway. But it's becoming easier to say why bother, just let the kids have it. Why wait until they start committing adult crimes?

I would give my name and address but I don't want to come home to my windows broken out and my car tagged.