It’s the casual way victims and perpetrators discuss gun-involved violence in the Falls, that Timothy Lauger and Craig Rivera find startling.
The two Niagara University criminal justice professors are consulting with the Niagara County District Attorney's Office on a Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Their primary role is to conduct research to assess gun-related crime trends in Niagara Falls, including delineating hotspots, examining underlying reasons for trends, and identifying key groups and individuals responsible for these trends.
In working on the project, Lauger and Rivera have had conversations with members of the law enforcement community as well as limited interviews with street-level offenders and victims. The dialogue has taken place in jails, probation offices and homes.
"There are a few individuals in Niagara Falls who have been involved in 10, 11 shootings. Sometimes they're on the receiving end of it, but often they're shooting," noted Rivera. "The frequency with which these types of events occur in their lives is alarming and something that we hope to play a role in addressing through this study."
The problem-oriented policing strategy, known as lever-pulling, has reduced gun violence in cities like Boston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Chicago. It aims to reduce specific patterns of criminal offending through a process of focused deterrence that identifies, communicates with, and aggressively responds to high-rate offenders in high-crime neighborhoods.
Lever-pulling begins with the establishment of interagency working groups that combine their knowledge of the criminal environment with analysis of crime patterns to target problem areas, groups, and/or individuals.
"Our job is to dig into the available data and identify relevant crime trends that may help the police and the DA's Office better address gun-related issues," explained Lauger, who recently received the James L. Maddex Jr. Paper of the Year Award for a study he conducted on gangs in Indianapolis that was published in Criminal Justice Review.
Lauger and Rivera began their research by spending about 60 hours in ride-alongs with the Niagara Falls Police Department, which exposed them to the conditions experienced by line-level officers. They then analyzed problem places and people in the city.
Utilizing intelligence reports and data from 911 calls provided by the NFPD, the professors determined that all of the firearm-related calls over an eight-month period occurred in 164 street segments in Niagara Falls. Resulting crime maps illustrated that, unsurprisingly, the areas with the highest number of firearm-related incidents are characterized by relatively high rates of poverty. For example, the average median household income for residents living around Highland Avenue (tract 202), 15th Avenue from Pierce to Pine Avenue (tract 209), Memorial Hospital (tract 211), and Ferry Avenue from 17th to 24th Street (tract 213) is $18,649 and 45.5 percent of residents live in poverty.
In addition, to better understand shooting patterns in the city, the professors created a shooting network map using the NFPD's IBM I2 program. They went through criminal histories to create a network analysis map that then linked people to each other based on intelligence reports and whether or not they had ever been part of the same police report.
"Our goal was to provide an extensive network map of offenders in Niagara Falls, discern groupings among offenders and identify shooting trends within the network," Lauger said.
"People tend to separate populations when they think of shootings," added Rivera. "They sort of put the victims in one group over here and the shooters in another group. We've found that these groups often overlap."
The following strategies are being developed:
• Interagency crackdowns on gangs in response to violent behavior from their members.
• Pointing out the success of the criminal justice system in arresting and prosecuting violent offenders.
• Convey message of hope to violence-plagued neighborhoods.