By Roger Spurback
Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls has been blessed to have had great leaders in public safety during our history. Former Fire Chief William MacKay and Police Chief Ernie Palmer are among the ones remembered for being "people-ticians" rather than politicians.
Shortly, we will lose another to retirement after 40-plus years of dedicated, 24/7 public service. Our police Chief John Chella, respected throughout police ranks of New York state, hangs up his badge but not his sterling reputation as a "leader of leaders." On behalf of our community block clubs, we send him a deep sense of sincere gratitude for his devotion, dedication to superior leadership, especially during these tough economic times.
A bad economy, mirrored by high unemployment, lack of jobs, poverty, struggling financial times, broken homes and recognized social crisis oftentimes brings out the worst criminal behavior in people. It's difficult to fathom anyone capable of harnessing the energy and ability to handle the multi-faceted crime problems Niagara Falls has faced. Through all the past several years of increasing higher criminal activity than the norm, the NFPD has sustained high professionalism, accomplished great police investigations, maintained work ethics and a fighting force second to no one in New York state. The reason is a leader named Chief John Chella, whose command these past nine years will be remembered as one of the top ones, if not the top.
He has not only been a public servant, but one who listens and has an intense compassion for protecting the public. He has responded to our block club member requests through action, not just words or promises. This has resulted in safer neighborhoods through drug seizures, multiple arrests and gang members going to jail.
Indeed, he has "walked the walk" not just "talked the talk." He taught us that respect is earned, not a given. He is a hands-on individual, who led by developing comprehensive, complex strategies, action and follow-up. Chella's expectations of his men led to consistent, professional improvement, respect for everyone in the public and finding solutions in the crime prevention, rather than reacting to crime, which by then is too late. He demonstrated his ability by working behind his fatigue level often in 12- to 16-hour workdays and 70 hour work weeks. Yes, we in Niagara Falls are the better for it.
Under his leadership and direction, our police department has been our No. 1 partner. The chief and his men have attended scores of late evening block club meetings, presented numerous educational presentations and answered and responded to hundreds of questions.
Our Citizen Police Academies have improved to include youth, graduating hundreds. Homeland security, preparedness and school safety have been a high priority, creating police resource officers. The RAC team and gang suppression teams have done superior work in taking criminals off the street. Initiatives during his tenure included addressing and ticketing kids walking in the street or those adults choosing to park in handicapped spaces or fire zones. His men have disrupted and dissected numerous after-hour, illegal bars and clubs.
They have addressed improving the ZOOM initiative while working with inspections, led high-profile investigations resulting in the arrests and incarceration of gang members of Crips, Bloods and Ninth Street Boys, among others. Today, we have cameras in neighborhoods under constant police monitoring.
Our police improved neighborhood safety by creating and designating police substations in high-crime areas, increased surveillance, worked with the U.S. Attorney's office to create a 19th Street "no plea zone" and have been persistent in arresting prostitutes. In addition, they have taken hundreds of illegal and stolen guns off the street and arrested and prosecuted the bandits that break into cars and homes. COMSTAT continues as well as crime stats provided to our members. Collaboration with county, state and federal officials is at an all-time high. Finally, with his blessing and financial assistance, 1,459 graffiti locations have been removed and new graffiti ordinances are in place, with his help.
This success cannot be accomplished without trust, vision and teamwork. A good leader brings all three into focus. We consider the honorable Chief Chella, whose many substantial achievements span his career as a police professional, worthy of our academy's life achievement award. We have been honored by his leadership, humbled to have had him lead not only his men, but us as well. Although we feel saddened with his departure, we wish him all the best.
In conclusion, he would not leave us unprepared. It is the mark of a fine leader who thinks about tomorrow. We understand as he has prepared, trained and recommended the man who will succeed him. So, kudos and hail to the chief! Thanks for a job well done and an exemplary career. Farewell. If we could clone you, John Chella, we would!
So, Mayor Dyster, let's put the next man in charge.Roger Spurback is president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, serving his 14th term since first being named to the position in 1994.