Niagara Gazette

February 18, 2013

HIGGS: Back to the block club retreat

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Last week the Niagara Falls Police Department dominated the article as well they should as our new Chief Bryan DalPorto had lots of changes to announce. Everyone agreed change is good and it sounds like he is moving in the right direction. More cops on the street has been a cry within the community and I loved seeing that officer walking the beat on Pine Avenue. Police presence is what it is all about. Keeps everyone on their toes.

Our District Attorney Michael Violante never disappoints and he admitted he was not initially in favor of the Judicial Diversion program — called it “another hand-holding court” but has come around 180 degrees in belief of the program and has become a partner in it. It puts the onus on the defendant to successfully complete the program.

He stated he attends the biweekly COMSTAT meetings. Offering his views on guns, he noted the huge difficulty is with the people who are shot but are not cooperating with law enforcement as the most disturbing part. It makes it harder to pursue these types which he said are often gang members involved in territorial battles. Many of the shootings are meant to injure not necessarily to kill. His comment on the proposed gun buy-back is “any gun off the street is a blessing and a help” and he is in favor of governor’s anti-gun legislation. Retail crime (shoplifting) sometimes involves people with 100-plus petty larceny crimes already on their record. No pleas are allowed in cases like these. Yeah! (my comment — everyone knows I do not like plea bargaining although I do understand why it is used). Witnesses need to come forward regardless of the type of case.

James P. Kennedy, first assistant U.S. Attorney (federal prosecutor) within the Western New York District was new to our panel this year. I met him at last year’s Crime Night Out when he substituted for U. S. Attorney William Hochul and he willingly consented to come again to this event. He admitted one-third of what they do is related to drugs and guns. The Western New York District is comprised of 17 counties and they feel they are fortunate to have talent like Sheriff James Voutour and new Niagara Falls Superintendent DalPorto as partners in this area. His office also deals with child exploitation, a problem exasperated by the Internet. They are also able to assist Niagara Falls and the FBI in cases involving corruption. This is important to economic development as it ensures a level playing field. A major difference in their powers is that they are able to lock someone up from the date of arrest under a presumption which is something the district attorney cannot do. Final remark — need witnesses — if you see something, say something.”

The Niagara County Probation Department was represented by its director, John Cicchetti, who admits he has a complicated and far-reaching job. He stated his one overreaching goal is to reduce recidivism rates (habitual relapse into crime). His main thrust is to meet the needs of offenders and the community. His office participates with Operation Impact and his department attends the COMPSTAT meetings also. His office handles the reentry of prisoners from the state prison system. He introduced Eric Boerdner, the county re-entry coordinator who stated he handles 192 of the highest risk offenders — about one every other day. The goal is to keep individuals from going back to a criminal lifestyle. It doesn’t necessarily work all the time but it DOES work. They will continue to work toward reducing the “return to crime rate.” He indicated they would also make sure service providers are providing services such as mental health providers.

Sen. George Maziarz who was also serving his 26th day representing Niagara Falls indicated his willingness to attend block club meetings. He has formed five focus groups with residents and works closely with Congressman Brian Higgins. He noted he is very knowledgeable about issues regarding NYPA and agrees that the 2005/2009 agreements were not in the Niagara Falls and Niagara County’s best interest. He also indicated that Niagara Falls needs employment and jobs and he will continue to be outspoken about these issues. He was critical of some of past practices in the city such as the courthouse (mandated by the state), USA Niagara and others. Maziarz noted he felt the Niagara Falls International Airport was the best success story. During 2012 180,000 people used the airport even while closed for two months. During 2011 it was 200,000 and in 2009 the number was only 1,000 people. Four new hotels opened on Niagara Falls Boulevard and the Fashion Outlet Mall is expanding.

Maziarz noted that Nik Wallenda, who in June of 2012 walked a wire across the Niagara Gorge under the watchful eyes of the world on global network television, has promised a permanent presence in Niagara Falls.

Well, I am not sure I am done yet. I have some of the questions to review that were asked by attendee and I may present to you along with the answers given by our panel next week. Probably some are questions you would have asked also. Some relate to sex offender population increase, high burglary rates, a drug called Molly, credit card scams, and good vs. bad landlords and rent vouchers, city council taking away funding for block clubs, in rem auctions — good or bad. Stay tuned.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.