Falls police chief offers 'Safe Shopping' update

In this file photo from May, Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Thomas Licata speaks with residents during a community forum hosted by the police department at the City Market. On Wednesday, Licata attended a meeting of the city council where he offered lawmakers an update on the department's ongoing Safe Shopping Initiative. 

With summer in full swing and the tourist season hitting the two-thirds mark, Falls police have increase their number of Safe Shopping Days programs this month.

Community Relations Division and Patrol Division officers plan to conduct 17 Safe Shopping Days through Aug. 31.

"We've been knocking them out," Falls Police Superintendent Tom Licata said.

With just $50,000 in funding from the Niagara Falls City Council to work with, some had questioned how many days police could run the program and how effective it could be after a spike in violent in the spring.

"Community Relations has taken the bulk of (the program)," Licata said. "But we've also been trying to move officers around to minimize overtime to get the most we can out of that $50,000."

Niagara Falls police brass say that when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of the department’s Safe Shopping Initiative, who you listen to matters.

“Safe Shopping has been met with mixed opinions, depending on who you talk to,” Falls Police Superintendent Tom Licata told members of the city council recently. “Our officers who are working the initiative, the boots on the ground, say the people they talk to love it. Social media, not so much.”

But in an update on the initiative for lawmakers at city hall, Licata touted the program as meeting its goals of creating safer retail districts by adding more patrol officers at times when people are out on the streets.

“The senior community has applauded it and loves it,” Licata said. “They want us to do it forever.”

Since the program resumed on May 10, patrol and community relations officers have implemented the program on more than a dozen days in areas stretching from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Highland Avenue.

The initiative resumed following a spike in violent crime in the Pine Avenue business district and other city neighborhoods. The Falls City Council approved the transfer of an additional $50,000 into the city police department’s overtime budget to reinstate the program after a request from Mayor Paul Dyster. The funding came from the city’s dwindling casino cash fund balance.

The program features multiple components including concentrated patrols, where officers are present in a shopping area for several hours allowing patrons to interact with them and shop while police are present. Other components are additional patrolling of the targeted areas, including foot and bike patrols. Among the districts that police have targeted are Pine Avenue, the City Market, Portage Road, Niagara Street, Main Street, Old Falls Street and Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Late last month, Licata also told the city council he has only spent $6,859 of the $50,000 allocation for the initiative so far.