ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Albany Police are taking new steps to improve community policing around the city to reduce crime and hire more officers at the same time.

26 officers graduated from the Albany Police Academy on Wednesday, giving the Albany Police Department one of their largest groups of recruits yet.

Police Chief Eric Hawkins said the department is facing challenges when it comes to hiring officers and its impacted how they operate. He hopes these new faces will help police expand their outreach programs in addition to their normal duties.

“By bringing these new officers in, it allows us to retain the cause for service response that we have,” Hawkins said. “But, it also allows us to expand even more of the community outreach programs that we have.”

The class was part of an inaugural community liaison partnership that puts officers-in-training on the streets of Albany with everyday people. Hawkins told graduates and their families that Albany is leading the country in community policing initiatives, building bridges that could change how policing is seen and done.

“While they are learning how to jump fences and drive cars and firearm safety, they are also learning how to connect with business owners and residents in our community in impactful, meaningful ways while they are in the academy,” Hawkins said.

That connection works both ways. Hawkins said the department’s goal with community policing is to secure trust and help combat rising gun violence in the area, something he said is crucial.

“They are fed up with the gun violence, they are fed up with this proliferation of guns that they have in our community,” Hawkins said. “They want to connect with the police department, they want to provide information and partnerships and collaborate with police on the strategies that are used to combat these things.”