|Bryan DalPorto was on the
streets this night.|
Recent studies have suggested that Niagara Falls is the most dangerous city in New York State and one of the most dangerous in the entire nation.
The Niagara Falls Reporter determined therefore to go on a "ride along" with a Niagara Falls Police officer, to see what the streets are like and what a typical officer does in patrolling these "most dangerous" streets.
It was a rainy night. 43 degrees. Saturday. November. It was 7:30 pm.
The officer I was assigned to was Donnie Booth, 40.
A former marine, with five years active duty, who afterward spent seven years with the Niagara Falls police force.
Born in Niagara Falls, he grew up on 90th St in LaSalle.
We got into a marked police car, a 2008 Crown Victoria and as we drove the streets of Niagara Falls, I asked him, What made you become a police officer?
Growing up I always knew I wanted to do this, he said. I feel pretty lucky. Pretty much living my dream.
As we drove down Pine Ave., I said, there are slow and busy nights?
Summer months tend to be busier, Booth said. Weekend nights; warmer weather, there are more people out. Summertime keeps us on our toes. But we handle every night, every shift, every rotation the same. Today has been quiet. It was a good day.
I asked, Do you prefer quiet?
I prefer moderate. When you're real busy you can't help individual people as much as you want. I like to stay busy but I like to help people. It’s a lot easier when you're not being hammered with call after call after call.
How many are on patrol tonight?
|When a policeman stop a car, another officer arrives as backup|
Two in LaSalle. Three in the south end. In the north end, we have three and myself. Nine. We also have three lieutenants. One at the desk, two on the road.
Over the police radio we heard from dispatch that a "loud argument" was ensuing from an apartment on Chestnut. But it was not our beat. So we headed toward Niagara. Then drove down Cuddaback.
What do you look for on patrol? I asked.
I look at the whole road, making sure there is no one creeping around cars; trying to hide from me. If someone sees me and is going to duck behind a tree he's going to catch my attention. If something gets my attention, I stop. If someone sees me and takes off running, I call out "Stop! Police! Let me talk to you." Would I chase them? No. There is no crime just running from police. However if a call comes in that there's been a robbery and I just saw this guy run from me and he matched the description -- now the chase is on.
We turned down 19th St. Then back to Pine.
A lot of the people unfortunately do drugs around here, he said, and this is an area for prostitution.
As we got to the corner of 19th and Pine Ave, I asked him, How many times have you been on patrol at this exact intersection.
At least 1000 times, he said.
Have you ever shot a man? I asked.
Have you ever had to pull your gun to arrest a man?
Yes., He said. The only time we pull our gun is when we need that level of force. We always try to use the lowest force necessary. However, if you feel your life is in danger or someone else's life is in danger than you use your weapon and attempt to get that person to comply.
We drove to Main St, passing all the vacant stores on this now derelict street.
I remember Jenss Department store, Booth said, and I remember when all these stores were decorated at Christmas. Now they are all just pieces of wood.
Driving down Lewiston Road, we turned on College and up Highland.
This is an area that has had gun violence recently, Booth said as he explained each part of the city.
We drove down McKoon.
A lot of houses here are owned by Niagara University and a lot of kids have parties on this street, Booth said. Not a lot of violence, not a lot of major problems, but a lot of parties. We have to go break up the parties; tell them to keep the music down.
During the time we had been driving there had not been a single call for us from dispatch.
There's nothing going on, Booth said.
That's good isn't it? I said.
It's very good. It means there's no crime; it means everybody is having a good night. Everybody's being peaceful.
What's the longest you’ve been on patrol without a call?
I went seven hours during a snow storm. I never went a whole shift with nothing. It could be quiet for a while. But there could be a shooting; there could be a speeding car; there could be a domestic.
We drove down 9th St and through the acres of subsidized housing: Jordon Gardens, Center Court, the Commons.
Do you get a lot of trouble here? I asked.
You're going to have your typical arguments and domestics. As for serious problems, I'd say there are less calls here than elsewhere in the city. People tend to be friendlier over here
We passed the Highland Deli where there were shootings recently. Booth was called to one of them.
What about heroin?
It’s always been big, he said. I think there is a little bit more now. Same as Rochester, Buffalo, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach. We have a pill issue too.
It had stopped raining.
We drove back toward Pine.
Finally, after a long silence, a call came from dispatch: a couple were fighting in the hallway and their room at the Four Points Sheraton in LaSalle.
Booth was not called to the scene. We drove instead down an alley.
We find a lot of cars parked here, Booth said.
For what purpose?
If you see a woman loitering do you stop her? I asked.
I will drive by and circle around the block and see if she's still there, he said. If she's out there 10 minutes later, especially at 2 o'clock in the morning, waving at cars, that's probable cause for me to investigate further. If she gets into a car and there's a problem with the vehicle: maybe a bad taillight, they don’t use a turn signal, whatever, I stop them. Then I'll ask, "How do you guys know each other?" Of course they're going to say, "Oh, this is my friend." I usually separate the two. Usually he's going to sing the blues once she's out of the car. He'll say, "well I just picked her up. She said she needed a ride. And she told me she would do 'xyz' for so much money". Now I'm going to take a statement from him and I can arrest her.
What about domestics? I asked.
If we had responded to the domestic at the Sheraton and it ended up just being an argument -- no arrest would be made. If someone slapped someone across the face, that's a violation. For a domestic, for an arrest to be made, it has to result in an injury. If a punch results in a broken nose, now it's an assault. If the person punches someone and it fractures their skull, it's a felony assault. If I use something other than my hands, a stick, a hammer, a dangerous instrument, it's assault second. If we go to house and she had the crap beat out of her but she doesn't want him arrested, we can still arrest him. If I see visible injury, I will arrest the person. A normal person should not be beating up their wives or beating up their husbands. A lot of times a guy is afraid to call the police because he doesn't want to look like he's weak.
How about gay domestics, do you ever have them? I asked.
We get lesbians, gay domestics. I treat them all the same.
|An officer arrives ready to make an arrest.
As we spoke, dispatch called for our car. It was our first call of the night.
In front of Collucci's Funeral home on 19th, "there is a female flagging down cars." She was of "unknown race, black jacket and black pants."
On the way to 19th St., we passed a car driving erratically.
She doesn't look drunk, Booth said of the driver, but she's just not right. But we're on a call. If she was all over the road I would stop her.
Near Collucci's, on 19th St, there was a was a 30-something white woman walking on the street in a black jacket and black pants.
Booth pulled up. Hi, how are you doing? he asked.
Good, how are you, she said, nervously.
You hanging out?
No. I live at the corner.
Another officer came in a patrol car as back up.
Maybe I'm looking for someone else, Booth continued. Is that where you're going now? Home?
Yes, I'm going right home, she said.
Have you been walking back and forth?
Just one way. I came from Tronolone Place.
What's your name?
Rita W----, she said. Do you want to see ID?
Booth got out of the car.
Where do you work? he asked her.
--- Pizza. I run the one on ----. I'm definitely not the weirdo you're looking for.
Weirdo? Booth said, amused.
Mostly everybody walking around is a weirdo, she said.
The other officer got out and took her ID.
We got back in the car.
Booth said, possibly could have been her. But I didn't see her flagging a car.
After a few moments, the other officer came to our car and said, she doesn't have an arrest record, but I don't doubt it was her because who she's been with. She never was arrested for prostitution but she hangs around with prostitutes.
If we see her out again, Booth said, we are going to ask "what are you doing now?" For now we are going to have to clear it.
The other officer returned to his car.
I said to Booth, You have sort of a good natured approach.
I'm not looking to hurt anybody, Booth said. I wish I could snap my fingers and make Niagara Falls a better place and do away with all crime. But then I’d be out of a job.
Once again we resumed our patrol.
It wasn't long before we got our second call.
It was to 22nd St.
Lower apartment, the dispatcher said. It's supposed to be a vacant house but man says he can see lights flickering in the house from a flashlight.
This night be a burglary, Booth said.
As we drove to 22nd St, dispatch called for another car: Shoplifter. "Two white females" stole from the 7-11 on Pine Ave then "got into a grey vehicle. They went west on Pine Ave."
If you saw that grey car on the way to this call on 22nd what would you do? I asked Booth.
I would call it out, and ask the radio what they wanted me to do and a lieutenant would jump in and say either "follow the car" or "continue to your call." The call we're going to right now is a higher priority because there could be someone getting hurt inside, Booth added.
Once on 22nd, we pulled over near the house and shut our lights off.
Booth and another officer, James Woomer, who arrived just ahead of us, approached the house together. I followed.
The officers went to the side door.
There was a young black man standing in the hallway.
Do you live here?, Woomer asked.
Why are you using flashlights? Woomer asked.
I don't have the power on yet, he said, solving the mystery, seemingly.
Just then a woman came from her upstairs apartment and confirmed the young man - her brother - had just rented the lower apartment. The man showed his ID
Somebody was concerned, Booth explained to them. We have had a lot of burglaries.
After we left, Booth said, that was the best case scenario. The power wasn't turned on.
Within minutes of being back on patrol, we got our third call - to assist as back up. An officer had stopped a car on 18th St. The driver had run a red light.
There was a child in the car; two females in the front.
It turned out the female driver had a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket.
We’re going to get her out of the car, put her in handcuffs and lock her up, Booth explained.
He and the other officer approached the car, one on each side. I could see the woman's fright. Her child was in the back seat. She was going to be arrested.
Step out of the car, the officer said.
You have to step out of the car, he said. It can only get worse.
By this time the woman was nearly paralyzed with fright. She paused but what about my child?
The officer said, You got to step out of the car. I'm trying to be nice to you.
She got out of the car.
And they - it is the law - ruthless law- the officers had to - they had no choice - they arrested this mother and took her away from her child, for not having paid the state a traffic ticket.
The child was left with the other woman in the car/.
I had little time to ponder this injustice, however. For, just as the woman was handcuffed and placed in the police car, we heard what sounded like a gunshot.
Booth and I got into the car and sped to where it appeared to have come from.
Down an alley, Booth flashed his spotlight up and down. Soon several patrol cars were looking around the streets there.
We drove down an alley and saw a man walking.
Did you hear any gunshots? Booth asked.
I think a woman blew a tire out, he said.
Where? Did you see anybody
How did he know it was a woman if he didn’t see anybody? I asked.
We went down another alley and Booth again flashed his spotlight on the yards and backs of houses, some of them vacant.
Of course we're looking for the suspect, he said, but the number one thing we're looking for is the person who is hurt and needs help. At the same time you want to watch for a suspect with a weapon.
Could it have been a tire blowing out? I asked.
Could have been. Could have been someone putting a shotgun out the window and blowing it off. Could have been someone wanting to sell it, firing it to show it worked. Could have been a kid goofing around.
As we drove down the alley, coming in the opposite direction was the chief of police - Bryan DalPorto in an unmarked SUV.
What are you doing out tonight? I asked him.
I always come out and check at least once a night, the Chief said. I was making the trek down this alley when I saw you guys.
You must really like this work, I said.
The Chief said, I tell you what, it is by far the funnest job you'll ever have. It can be dangerous, but it's fun.
After the chief drove off - he too looking for the source of the gunshot - Booth agreed with his assessment.
This is definitely the funnest job you'll ever have, Booth said. A call like this, sure it is dangerous, but it’s part of the job.
|Here a mother is handcuffed and arrested, separated from her
child in the back seat, simply because she had an unpaid traffic
ticket that led to a judge issuing a warrant.
After driving down a number of streets and looking and talking to pedestrians, we found no one responsible for the sound that could have been a gunshot.
I took up the topic of the poor mother who was arrested.
Will she spend the night in jail? I asked.
Somebody could bail her out, Booth said.
As we drove, an officer contacted Booth to tell him he thought he saw that same woman back on 19th.
Like the chief said, it is the best job, the funnest job you'll ever have, Booth said. You're driving around all slow. Then things start hopping.
As we drove down Niagara, we spotted a woman.
But it was not the one Booth questioned before.
It was Angela---, a woman I knew from a previous interview. She was a homeless prostitute.
Booth addressed her by name.
What's up honey? she said
You're out on the streets Angela, he said.
There were two other girls here, she offered too quickly.
Ok, don't argue, Booth said. What were they doing?
They were standing right here on the corner, she said. I was down the other way.
You have been good lately? Booth asked. You haven't been messing around?
Yes, I have been good.
Booth said, I wish you could do better stuff than this because we all know what's going on.
Yeah, I wish I could too, right now, she said.
Let me put it this way, Booth said. There's going to be no more tonight for you on this street because we are going to be taking action tonight.
Alright, she said. I'm going to try to see if I can borrow some money from my mother so I can pay for a place to stay tonight.
After we drove off, Booth said, she's working now. I let her know that I'm on to it. If I see her approach somebody now, we got enough to lock her up. But it's not going to help her. She'll spend a couple nights in jail. She needs help. She's hooked on drugs. Look I'm not out to lock everybody up. But if she doesn't want to listen, that's disrespecting us. It's not disrespecting me. It's disrespecting the badge.
We drove down Pine. It was almost abandoned.
We turned down 20th. A car slowed down and went down an alley then stopped and the driver shut off the exterior lights, but seemed to have left the interior lights on. Booth drove down that alley.
As we approached the car, Booth said, We have a "no chase" policy, so we won't be chasing anybody in a vehicle because of the risk. Now, if it's a serious crime and he's our suspect, yeah. we'll go after him. But if it’s a prostitute with a John, were not going to chase them. The risk is too high.
When we got near to the car, Booth got out.
I followed. He approached with his hand on his gun but not out of the holster.
he got close to the car and peered inside it.
N one was in the car.
Most likely it was someone who just forgot to put his interior lights out, Booth said.
Back in the car, we drove down 19th again then to Niagara, Cleveland and Whitney in turn.
Booth explained, right now, as we turn the corner, I'm watching behind. I'm looking in the mirrors. I'm always looking everywhere.
Booth explained that when he makes an arrest, I talk to them the way they want to be talked to. You have someone on the ground handcuffed cause they're going to jail, cause they just robbed a bank. I talk to them like they're a human being. 'Hey man, this is nothing personal. I'm just doing my job. I'm sure you got reasons for why you did it.' I'm not asking why he did it. I'm not asking him anything to do with the crime. I'm just talking to the man and if he starts telling me "well I did it because of this." Guess what? Did I ask him why he did it? I didn't ask him anything to do with the crime.
As we drove, we passed a hotel where Booth once worked a homicide. He found a man bleeding to death after being killed by a woman.
Then we passed the Rapids Theater on Main.
Remember the big riot at the Rapids? Booth said, I was the guy that got ran over. That was me that got trampled.
Were you hurt?
I got bruised up a little, but nothing major. They were jumping over me. Gunshots going off. People were getting stabbed. That was me, Tom Bolt and Lt. (Jeffrey) Billings, who is retired.
I remember Billings, I said.
I loved him, Booth said. He was a great cop. When I started I was not good at talking to people. He took me under his wing and beat me up a few times. In a manner of speaking he did a job on me and I ended up Ok.
As we passed city hall, Booth remembered two officers who passed away, David Kinney and William Gee.
I knew Dave very well, Booth said. He was a great guy. In him, I lost a friend, a boss. We lost a good cop. Lost a father, a brother. He helped me out a lot when I was brand new. Bill Gee was another loss. He was always looking out for the other officer. If something was going on, he would say "I'm not having it" and he would jump right in the midst and do the right thing.
As we drove we happen to pass another house where Booth had once come to the scene of a shooting.
He said, I only had my hands on two fatalities. One when I was brand new, and one a couple years ago.
He pointed to a certain building.
The guy who bought the building was a victim of a homicide, he said. He got shot on the corner, ran through the yards, and died on Whitney. That was the first homicide I worked on. I responded to the call. He was lying in a backyard.
We cruised down Walnut, then 19th St.
You probably know every street in the city? I ventured.
Pretty well, he said.
We went by 24th St. But the night was waning.
The only call we heard for a long time was of a dead dog in the middle of Porter near New Rd.
A dead dog? I said.
That’s what they think, Booth said. It might be a deer. It could be a pile of trash. Could be a stuffed animal.
It was Saturday night. We had been together for four hours and the worst we got so far was a gunshot maybe. Talked to a prostitute. Arrested a mother for an unpaid ticket. Checked out a house where somebody had a flashlight and now a dead dog.
What do you make of that? I asked. Fifty thousand people in this city and nobody calling the police.
That tells me the city isn't as bad as everyone says it is, Booth said.
At least tonight it is not the most dangerous city, I said. It may be the least dangerous.
I wonder how many police calls Amherst got tonight? Booth asked.
I wonder how many police calls any city of 50,000 got tonight? I said.
Booth said, tomorrow night it could be gunshots all over the city.
As we drove down an alley, then headed toward Pine, on the radio, the officer at the dead dog scene asked if there was someone to dispose of the dog.
There is nobody at DPW working right now, dispatch said. Can you move so it's not a hazard?
I have nothing to move it with, the officer said.
A few moments later dispatch called: Attempt to locate. Looking for a white male, 22 years old. His name is -----. He is wearing a red flannel shirt, possibly a black jacket, long blond hair, 6' 3," 175-200 pounds. He's playing in a band and wandered off, possibly intoxicated, headed toward Wedge liquors.
Dutifully we drove past Wedge Liquors and circled around but did not find him.
A guy is playing in a band and got drunk and wandered off toward a liquor store. You get the whole gamut, I said.
People deal with us at their worst time. They see me when they have a problem.
But after this fruitless search for a lost drunk, now it was time to head back to the station; the shift was over.
As I got out of the patrol car, I said to Booth, people say that Niagara Falls may be the worst, the most dangerous city. If it is the worst city - it seems to me then that it stands to reason that its cops have to be the best. That's plain logic.
But was it really so dangerous.
I got out of the car and really nothing bad had happened in the whole city that night.
I make no judgment. I listened to a patrolmen explain in his own words to some small extent his job.
It was just another night in the most dangerous or, at least on this one night the safest city perhaps in New York State, maybe in America.
|A drug addicted prostitute approaches a car, looking to make some money to pay for crack cocaine.