A Real Conversation About Crime
A Real Conversation About Crime
Guestview by Seth Piccirillo
Conventional wisdom tells politicians to avoid talking about the details, especially on crime. I disagree. You deserve more. Tough situations require detailed solutions. We need to talk about fighting crime in our community, today.
My life is an ongoing conversation with Niagara Falls citizens. I want to learn about what happens on your street, what needs to improve and how I can help. Residents are concerned about crime right now. I've heard that loud and clear, while visiting hundreds of doorways over the last two months. In choosing a mayor, our neighbors want to see real plans that keep our streets safe and walk-able. They do not want to see political side steps. We need to do better than just wanting "to improve the image of Niagara Falls as a safe place to be," or saying that we are "not the crime capital of the world," as my opponent, Robert Restaino, did in The Niagara Gazette on January 20, 2019.
These responses are disconnected from reality. If there is crime happening on your block, you are much more concerned with stopping it than improving an image. Perception is not reality when bullets are involved. If you are running for office, you need the empathy to put yourselves in other peoples' shoes, even if your own block is safe and secure.
I am aware, as the rest of you are, that violent crimes are being committed on our streets, everyday. I believe in the men and women of our Police Department and all of our first responders. They walk directly into worst-case scenarios that the rest of us pray to avoid. These officers put their lives on the line when they leave their homes, in order to keep the rest of ours safe. They are ready and willing to do the tough but necessary job of getting guns and criminals off the streets. I am committed to aggressively fighting crime and pushing back against those that wish to do harm to city residents and local businesses.
There are straightforward ways to both support the Police Department’s mission and make our neighborhoods stronger in the process. As mayor, my administration would focus on:
-Updating how we staff our patrols to get the most out of our current budgeted resources. Less police officers on the streets is certainly not the answer. When the police are a known presence, feelings of safety will increase.
-Outfitting our crime fighters, both on the beat and during investigations, with the vehicles and equipment needed to police our streets. Beyond that, converting our city street lights to white LEDs, and using smart cameras and sound sensors to respond to situations as quickly as possible. Our city's population grows during the tourism season and so does the crime rate. Investing in our police department and better lighting is a sound use of casino funds, to keep both our residents and visitors as safe as possible.
-Doubling down on community policing strategies, which introduce young people to officers in non-emergency situations. Our summer community events have been successful and funded by competitive grants. As mayor, I would expand the event schedule to the winter, bringing back night gyms and continuing to develop facilities like the new north-end community center. Our young people need constructive activities, and we can creatively give them more, in their neighborhoods.
-Paying attention to criminal court in the same way we now track housing court. If good police work results in an arrest but fizzles in the court room with a quick “release on your own recognizance” (ROR), what message does that send to our police officers, or the community? Judges run on law and order, and are handed an extraordinary amount of power. Regardless of any changes to state law, we need to make sure that the court does its part.
-Continuing to work with community organizations like the Niagara Falls Peacemakers, NF Angels, Ministerial Council, Magdalene Project, block clubs, and others to grow network of neighborhood partners. More conversations can bring more trust, which helps police officers get their jobs done.
-Continuing to use Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) when designing any public spaces to create better sight lines that are easier to police.
-Launching a 311 system that allows residents to talk to someone about non-emergency situations, so that all quality of life issues are responded to quickly. Officers need to be working their beat rather than answering non-police calls.
-Focusing on the Crime Analysis Center as a crucial part of our community policing strategy. In a small city, data driven, targeted enforcement can force real and timely change.
Crime prevention is glazed over because it’s an ugly issue. There’s no ribbon cutting for a day without a shooting. The wins in crime fighting are quite, but the losses send shock waves through any city, including ours. The solutions cannot be found in naive political statements or with our heads in the sand. Public safety is the most important service provided by the government. The solutions I am presenting, combined with the work our Police Department is already doing, can make a difference. We just need to keep an honest conversation going and then act.
Seth Piccirillo is a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls and a candidate for mayor.