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Violence down amid quality-of-life worry
Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News
Violent crime in Buffalo is down by 24 percent for the first five months of this year, but police are having a tough time dealing with routine quality-of-life complaints.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and top law enforcers said Wednesday that new crime figures underscore the need to hire more officers.
Most types of serious crime have decreased, compared with a similar period last year, while arrests have increased. But police officers also wrote 60 percent fewer summonses for reasons such as noise violations, loitering and other quality-of-life offenses.
"This is a little bit of a concern," Brown told the top brass in the Police Department on Wednesday.
Common Council members have been prodding police officers to beef up quality-of-life enforcement, contending that the seemingly minor nuisances are what undermine neighborhoods.
Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said the department has 80 fewer officers than it did when he took charge in early 2006. As a result, he said law enforcers have to prioritize. When the number of injured-on-duty personnel are taken into account, Gipson said, Buffalo is down to about 600 officers on the streets in any given week.
Despite heavier workloads and a wage freeze that blocked raises for more than three years, Gipson insisted that officers remain highly motivated in the fight against crime.
"They go after calls like a dog after a bone," Gipson told Buffalo's CitiStat accountability panel.
Still, the commissioner said, a shrinking police force has made it difficult to maintain the momentum. Shortly after Brown took office in 2006, both the mayor and Gipson warned that a plan to reduce the police force from about 800 to 675 was unrealistic. The Council has also supported plans to reverse the downsizing.
The new city budget that takes effect Sunday earmarks funds to hire 40 new police officers.
The number could increase to 67 if all public safety officers who lost their jobs last year at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority passed a police exam that was given earlier this month. Brown reiterated his desire Wednesday to eventually hire 100 new officers. However, many of the new hires would be offset by anticipated retirements.
Brown credited Police Department initiatives for helping hold down violent crime, contending that Buffalo is "bucking a national trend" that has seen serious crime rise in comparable cities this year.
He said officials from other regions have asked for information on the city's Mobile Response Unit, an initiative that focuses on gangs, guns and drugs in targeted areas.
"Buffalo is becoming a national story," Brown said of this year's decline in violent crime. "Cities that are much larger than us are reaching out to ask how we're doing it."
The picture in 2006 was more bleak, however. Statewide, Buffalo had the sharpest percentage increase in homicides between 2005 and 2006, according to FBI statistics. Police blamed much of the increase on drugs, gang wars and easy access to handguns.
Officials are convinced that new police initiatives are showing results, noting that violent crime has been decreasing for 10 consecutive months.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios