Leonard Morgenbesser, Albany gun-violence watchdog, dies
Published on 3/25/2013 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST Staff Writer
Albany: Leonard Morgenbesser, an anti-gun-violence advocate who kept meticulous lists of every gun crime perpetrated in the city, died Monday in Queens after a battle with brain cancer, according to an email distributed to his friends and colleagues. He was 62.
Morgenbesser, a resident of the Buckingham Pond neighborhood who spent more than three decades as a researcher for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, spent his free time painstakingly cataloging the violence on Albany's streets — plumbing the depths of newspaper reports as well as television newscasts for even passing mentions of a shooting or armed robbery not on his list.
If his records did not match news reports or he believed an incident had gone unreported, Morgenbesser, who had a Ph.D. in criminal justice from the University at Albany, would not hesitate to contact local newsrooms to resolve the discrepancy.
"He would drop off his list and say, 'Here's my list, what's your list like? I think mine is accurate,'" Assistant Police Chief Brendan Cox recalled. "He had a lot of legitimate, legitimate points – and you couldn't shake him on them. You need people like him around. He lived uptown, and he cared about this entire city – wherever gun violence happened."
Morgenbesser's efforts eventually got him appointed in 2007 to the city's Gun Violence Task Force, the work of which took center stage the following year after the shooting death of 10-year-old Kathina Thomas, who was slain by an errant bullet while she played in West Hill.
"He certainly deserves a great deal of credit in saving lives. And he continued to be a strong advocate for children and for young people in our communities," said the Rev. Edward B. Smart, pastor of First AME Church on Hamilton Street, who served alongside Morgenbesser on the task force.
Smart said Morgenbesser played a crucial role in helping make Albany one of the pilot cities for the anti-violence program known as SNUG after he was among those who invited state Sen. Malcolm Smith to one of the task force's meetings.
Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, who spearheaded the push for the task force, met Morgenbesser about a decade ago when they were part of an informal group that met Sunday nights at a Pine Hills Dunkin' Donuts to discuss how to address the violence problem.
"Leonard always said that you had to look at it like a disease – that you have to fight it like a disease," Calsolaro said, noting that approach has since become widely accepted. "He was saying this 10 years ago. He wasn't the only one. But people weren't listening to people like him."
Morgenbesser is survived by his wife, Maxine, and four children.