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What’s the Right Path to the Police?: Residents and law enforcement officers wonder how to stop violent crime?

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NIAGARA FALLS, NY (WIVB) — Crime spiked nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s no different in Niagara County.

During a ride with Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti, the sheriff told News 4 that the department is trying to publicize its presence in the community for two reasons: to build trust between the deputies and the residents they serve, and to to send a message. to known perpetrators.

“Our residents expect us to have our red and whites on the street and keep them safe,” Sheriff Filicetti said. “That is what we do.”

In May there were four shootings in four days. A series of violent crimes on May 5 resulted in one person being shot dead and another being shot in the face. On May 2, a victim was shot dead and another blow in the leg.

As with all crimes, gun violence is on the rise across the country, New York State and Niagara County. The FBI reports a 5% increase in violent crime from 2019 to 2020. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 12% increase in injury shooting incidents in Niagara Falls. Officials say the COVID-19 pandemic is partly responsible for the rise in violent crime.

“People have a lot of time on their hands, frustration, fear. It all played a part,” said Chief Superintendent of the Niagara Falls Police Department, John Faso.

Ezra Scott is the co-founder of the Niagara Falls Peacemakers and he said the spike in crime was caused by more than just the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it all comes down to economics, poverty, opportunity, stress, mental health — which is a huge topic right now,” explained Scott. “I think social media is also a big problem.”

Albany’s effect on police work

In 2019, New York State created a bail reform law so that fewer people would stay in jail because they couldn’t afford to bail. For officers and deputies, new laws have changed the way they oversee, which Sheriff Filicetti says presents a challenge for his team.

“They want to go out and do good police work. They want to do good in the community,” Sheriff Filicetti added. “When you see people you arrest get ticketed and they commit the same crime or another crime again, and they do it over and over again, it’s a challenge for them.”

Community leaders say judges’ discretion is an important part of the legal process and should be expanded.

“I think it’s really important to use discretion and look at things on a case-by-case basis,” Scott said.

Sheriff Filicetti said gun violence has exploded in Cataract City in the past two years, but it’s not just isolated in Niagara Falls.

Buffalo and Rochester have also seen an increase in gun crime, which Filicetti says is penetrating his county. As violence escalated, local, state and federal agencies began targeted enforcement operations at hotspots, patrolling the streets as one unit for hours.

“We’re really coming up with a large number of officers to announce our presence and go after known violators who may have search warrants,” Sheriff Filicetti said.

The operation took place on a Friday evening in early April. The Niagara Falls Police Department was the lead agency, and they were joined by other departments, including the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the New York State Police, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This operation included ground patrol and helicopter surveillance.

Targeted enforcement stats from Niagara Falls hotspots as of April 10:

  • Traffic stops / encounters with citizens – 127
  • Arrests for crimes – 11
  • Arrests for Misdemeanor – 20
  • Narcotics pending charges – 4
  • Traffic violations – 115
  • Non-appearance of executed warrants – 3
  • Rifle Arrests – 2

“We are using our crime analysis center to generate hotspots for different types of crime in the city and we are going to focus on those areas,” explains Chief Inspector Faso.

For the community, operations like this one can be a little shocking, according to Scott. He said not all residents have strong ties to the police and they may be scared or afraid.

“There’s definitely a factor of intimidation, especially when certain parts of the community aren’t already in the best relationship or the best view when they think of our police,” Scott said.

The Niagara Falls Police Department funded this operation with money received from the New York State Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVES) program.

“We know perpetrators who are not afraid to pull the trigger. It can happen anywhere. It’s happened in this town before,” Sheriff Filicetti added.

Scott says he doesn’t want to fine the police, but believes a proactive approach should be taken.

“Preventive efforts that prevent someone from making a bad decision that causes them to pull the trigger on a gun or rob a store,” Scott said. “Now, five seconds that cost them five years or 50 years of their lives.”

“I want to tackle violent crime. I want to go after the criminals, but I also want people to know that we’re just normal people here doing this job,” Sheriff Filicetti continued. “I think everyone knows we have to do the job the right way. I think there’s a disagreement with the community about what that looks like. What is the right way to do the job?”

Tackling crime and getting the community involved

In late April, Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino announced new programs to help city residents. A new SMS alert system will allow residents to receive city information on their phones, such as local programs for children and adults. The SNUG Anti-Violence Program returns to Cataract City to work with youth exposed to violent crime.

The sheriff’s officers carry sports equipment donated by Victory Sports, where officers can interact with the community through sports and even provide new equipment to neighbors in need. The sheriff encourages open dialogue between his deputies and the residents they serve, something Scott wants to facilitate.

“How can we get more bike patrols during the day? How can we have more foot patrols during the day, not just through some of their main streets, but through the inner-city communities? And being able to have conversations that allow residents and our police to get to know each other,” added Scott.

Their goal is simple: public safety.

“I think I want the community to know that we want the same as they do,” added Sheriff Filicetti. They want to live in a safe community. We want to help them have that safe community.”

“Let’s make sure we make the residency aware of what’s out there because the communities with the most resources, I think, are the communities with the least violence and crime,” Scott concluded.

Sheriff Filicetti said curbing crime will take more than just changing the law in Albany. It takes a whole community effort between elected officials, law enforcement officers and residents working towards the same goal.

Tara Lynch is a Born in Buffalo, who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, NY, a sister station to News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

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