By Rick Pfeiffer firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — It was a productive partnership in the war on drugs for almost 20 years.
But sometime in the mid-1990s the Falls Police Department decided to pull out of participating in the Niagara County Drug Task Force.
“In the 1970s we had all the police agencies (in Niagara County) under one roof (for drug investigations),” Sheriff Jim Voutour said, “That changed, but having (drug investigations) fragmented didn’t work as well.”
So Voutour and Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto decided city cops should join forces with their county counterparts.
“I thought it was a great idea, a valuable proposition to bring the Niagara Falls police back into the task force,” DalPorto said. “And it’s been a real positive for us.”
One Falls Police Narcotics Division detective has now been assigned to the task force and the the squad of veteran drug investigators has already been on the Cataract City streets “doing work.” In the last week, the Task Force and Falls narcotics detectives have executed three search warrants and made four arrests.
A week ago, task force investigators, Falls detectives and members of the Falls Police Emergency Response Team pulled a large quantity of crack cocaine and a loaded handgun out of a Whitney Avenue home.
Michael Maye, 29, 1705 Whitney Ave., was charged with third- and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Investigators said DNA and ballistics testing will be done on the weapon to see if it might be tied to other crimes.
Police also arrested Frank Thomas, 33, 519 Memorial Parkway, who was inside the Whitney Avenue home with Maye. Thomas was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.
A few hours after the Whitney Avenue raid, the task force hit again on 20th Street. This time, they seized a significant quantity of crack cocaine and found a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun, hidden in a bathroom wall.
Michael Toarmino, 24, 421 20th St., Apt. 2, was charged with third- and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
The task force wrapped up its first major city sweep, in a while, a day later with a raid on a Fourth Street home.
Working again with Falls Police narcotics detectives and ERT officers, investigators found a large quantity of heroin and part of a TEC-9 semi-automatic assault weapon. The TEC-9 had been reported stolen in Ohio.
Investigators arrested and charged Keith Garcia, 20, 612 Fourth St., Apt. 2, with third and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. Garcia may face federal firearms charges for his possession of the TEC-9 parts.
“We’re dealing with common bad guys,” Voutour said. “We need to work on that together.”
“Niagara Falls is a hub for drug activity in the county and if we can assist the sheriff’s department with our knowledge and they can exercise their (broader) jurisdiction, then that’s a win for the whole county,” he said.
DalPorto pointed out that Falls police officers and detectives are already detailed to the U.S. Marshals Felony Fugitive Task Force, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the local U.S Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force.
“We’ve been partnered with those agencies, so when you can bring assets like that and the county task force into the Falls we’re giving up a little and getting a whole lot,” he said.
Voutour said he couldn’t be happier to have the Falls Police back in the task force.
“It’s a better use of police resources,” the sheriff said. “We’re always looking for ways to do things better and more efficiently to benefit all the residents of Niagara County.”Big red number 20 Roughly, the number of years since Falls police have participated in the Niagara County Drug Task Force