ARMY OF SKATEBOARDS ROLLS OVER ALBANY BAN

JAY JOCHNOWITZ Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, July 13, 1994

ALBANY For the third time Tuesday afternoon, an officer tried to make the point as gently and as firmly as possible.


``This is going to be the last time,'' said Officer Mike Parsons as he stood surrounded by a horde of youngsters on the Civil War monument in Washington Park. Some listened. Some walked away. Some cursed loudly enough to be heard by the crowd. One behind him forced out a loud burp. Parsons was unrattled. Next time through, he calmly warned, he wouldn't be so nice.


But moments after Parsons left, before his car was even out of sight, it began anew, a virtual orgy of crime according to this city's laws: more than 50 youths sprang onto their skateboards, running them across the smooth stone of the memorial.


``Skateboarding is not a crime,'' said 13-year-old Adam Cummiskey of Niskayuna, well aware that Albany bans skating on its monuments, playing courts, and anywhere downtown below Lark Street. ``I think that law is what's the word? Stupid.''


He might also add ``unenforced,'' or at least rarely used. Three years after the Common Council banned skateboards downtown, adding in monuments and other public properties a year later, police don't have to look hard at statistics to estimate how many arrests they've made under a law even some aldermen predicted would be ineffective.


``A couple,'' said police spokesman Lt. Robert Wolfgang.


That, however, may be changing, as skaters seem to be appearing more often this year downtown, and are routinely defying the ban at the Civil War monument, one of Albany's most popular places for skateboarding. Police frustration is evident.


``This is a constant battle,'' said Parsons as he walked away from the group.


Eric Wilson of Triple A Boards, the city's best known skateboarding business, said one police sergeant last week stopped in to advise him, ``They'll arrest any kid on the monument, even 12-year-olds.''


Police on Friday made good on their word, arresting James Hargrave, 17, of East Greenbush, shortly before 6 p.m. Making the arrest was Sgt. Howard Schecter, who had the distinction of making the first skateboard collar in 1992, also on the monument. That case, however, was dropped.


The law has had little impact on Triple A, which this year moved from a one-room operation on Spring Street to a corner store at Washington Avenue and Henry Johnson Blvd., in sight of the monument no less. In addition to boards that generally run over $100, the store features dozens of snapshots of skaters around Albany, particularly on the Civil War monument. In one sequence, a skater runs along one shelf of the monument, makes his jump, while in the background a police car light goes on in the final frame.


``I can't blame them for doing their job, I guess,'' said Wilson. ``But it gives kids another reason to be afraid of their public defender.''


While public officials may see Albany as a city of vulnerable marble and stone, and of office workers and residents harried by whizzing skateboards, street surfers from far and wide come here especially for the downtown hills and architecture, and to mix with other fans of the sport. With Triple A's growth, too, has come promotional visits by teams of professional skateboarders who are sponsored by various manufacturers.


Such was the case Tuesday with a visit from the Foundation Co. team, an event that drew youths from throughout the Capital Region and at least as far away as Ithaca. Standing off to one side of the monument, parents John and Diane Hunt said they did some camping and sightseeing as they crossed the state, but bringing their son, Greg, 15, to Albany for the Foundation event was the reason for their trip.


Told that the monument was legally off limits, they weren't surprised, but they weren't rushing to pull their son away. ``Everyplace you go there's `no skateboarding' signs,'' said Diane Hunt, noting they've even found bans in California, which they'd thought would be skateboard heaven. But often, she said, there are local skateboarding parks to compensate, such as the one in Saratoga Springs. ``Teenagers need something to do. And they're not hurting anybody.''


There was talk of a skateboard park both times Albany voted on the ban, but plans went no further as city officials worried about liability.


Skaters have different views on how tough the city is on them. Some say police would rather bust a skateboarder than answer a drug call; others believe its just the opposite. Some avoid downtown, others, like Bill, 24, who did not want to give his last name, say they hit State Street and others in the business district daily, but wait until after 5 p.m.


Many have stories of escapes and near-escapes. Wilson tells the story of one youth whose board was confiscated by police last year. Because they insisted a parent or guardian reclaim it, the 23-year-old paid a street person $10 to pose as his uncle.


But none appeared to be truly worried as police left the monument Tuesday with their warning. Asked whether he was concerned about the prospect of arrest or losing his board as he skated back onto the monument, Kurt Rivers, 18, of Troy, said, ``Nah. I'll just run.''


A block away, another officer, Willie Hughes, was still trying diplomacy with a group gathered outside Triple A. He suggested that if they don't like the rules, do things to try to change them petition the government, ask the city for a park and help raise the money for it. But, he told them, stay off the monument. ``In Albany you have to do it the way Albany says,'' he told them.


Several promptly headed for the park.


``It may not have a long-term effect,'' Wolfgang acknowledged. ``We may have to do something else if things don't improve.''


FACTS:Where you can't do it Skateboarding is prohibited in the following areas of the city of Albany: All of the streets within the territory bordered by Clinton Avenue on the north, Myrtle Avenue to the south, Lark Street on the west and Broadway on the east. All public property where there are monuments, statues, etc. All public handball, tennis and basketball courts.