Just before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, a task force made up of more than 80 members of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies swept into the Cataract City.
Less than 10 minutes later, a New York State Police helicopter, was keeping an eye in the sky, spotlighting a vehicle fleeing up to a dozen police patrol cars through the streets of the Cataract City, at high speed, with sirens wailing and lights flashing. A Gazette reporter, embedded with a Niagara County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant, was along for the ride.
“It happened a little quicker than I thought it would,” Falls Police Narcotics & Intelligence Division Capt. Jay Fisher said of the chase.
But the chase was not unexpected.
With an uptick in shootings and homicides plaguing the Falls and other communities, large and small, across the United States, law enforcement sources say it has become more common tor suspects to attempt to flee from officers. Suspects believe they can get away from police who are reluctant to run the risks associated with high-speed pursuits.
Tuesday’s chase ended at Sixth and Niagara streets, when a male suspect jump out of the vehicle that officers had attempted to stop for an expired registration. The suspect was taken into custody, a short time later, at a home on Fifth Street.
The unidentified man had a felony level amount of suspected crack cocaine in his possession. Investigators said they believed he may have been armed during the chase, but they did not recover a weapon from him.
In was the first of what would be a dozen arrests made during the course of a seven-hour effort targeted at rounding up what were described as the Falls Police Department’s “top violent offenders.”
“These are the guys you’ll find the weapons on,” Fisher said.
Halfway through the operation, around 11:22 p.m., investigators found three firearms during a traffic stop in the 400 block of 19th Street. Detectives said as they approached a tan Buick driven by Dwayne Lee Walker, 31, of the Falls, they saw “a small amount of marijuana, three scales and a box of ziplock bags” on the front passenger seat of the vehicle.
When investigators asked Walker to step out of his car, and patted him down for weapons, they found a cocked and loaded revolver in his right front pants pocket. Police said the serial number on the handgun had been defaced.
Inside the trunk of the car detectives discovered a pistol-grip Mossberg 5000 12-gauge shotgun with five rounds. They also seized a Smith & Wesson M&P9 9mm handgun, with 16 rounds of ammunition in the magazine.
Walker told the investigators, “I took that (expletive) from the guy that just tried to rob me.”
Police charged Walker with second-, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree criminal contempt, for violating an order of protection that barred him from possessing firearms, and inadequate plate lamp.
The operation, which roughly tripled the number of officers usually on the Falls’ streets, was also designed to provide an additional uniformed patrol presence in what were identified as “crime hot spots” around the city.
By 2 a.m. Wednesday, Falls Police officers, Niagara County Sheriff’s Office deputies, officers from the Lockport, Town of Niagara, Town of Lewiston, North Tonawanda and New York State Park Police Departments, Niagara County Probation officers, New York State Police troopers, U.S. Border Patrol agents and members of the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force had initiated 240 law enforcement contacts.
In addition to the 12 arrests and the firearms seized from Walker, the law enforcement members recovered two other handguns and quantities of suspected narcotics. The officers, deputies and agents also executed 13 warrants and issued 107 traffic tickets.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Mayor Robert Restaino, Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti and Falls Police Superintendent John Faso, all called the operation a success.
“(We) were looking to develop a presence to increase security and get bad actors off the streets,” Restaino said. “In cities across Western New York and across the country, there have been increases in gun violence and Niagara Falls has not been immune to that.”
Faso said the saturation patrols were “focused on high crime areas and targeted some of our most violent offenders.” Among those arrested on weapons charges, Faso said two will face federal firearms counts.
Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office had been on hand for the operation and moved to file the federal cases.
“This has been an on-going effort among multiple agencies,” Filicetti said. “This is a concerted effort. We’re not going to solve it over night. Crime doesn’t know borders and this isn’t just a Niagara Falls problem.”
A series of warrant sweeps and saturation patrols in June, also resulted in multiple arrests and the seizure of a half dozen firearms.