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According to a Sept. 25 front-page Niagara Gazette story, crime is down in Niagara Falls -- at least in the business districts.

"From 2010 through this year, reported cases of serious crime were lower almost across the board in all seven of the city's business neighborhoods," the Gazette wrote. "In the isolated instances where crime went up, the increases were in single digits."

Community Relations Lt. Kelly Rizzo was quoted in the story and said statistics showed not only that reports of crime went down, but arrests went up.

"In the Downtown and Pine Avenue business districts, crime dropped in six out of seven categories," reported the Gazette, which also published graphs to illustrate declining crime numbers and photos of bicycle patrolmen giving directions to tourists or alongside a mother and her baby in a stroller.

The news was good, the pictures comforting, the outlook rosy.

"The LaSalle business district saw crime drop in five out of seven categories," the Gazette reported, "while reported cases of burglary and assault remained the same in 2011 as in 2010.

"On Main Street, five out of seven categories of crime dropped .... there were no reports of stolen vehicles in the district in either 2010 or 2011."

The Gazette did admit there is one area where abundant crime still exists, but improvement is evident here too.

"The weakest numbers came from the Niagara Street business district, which includes the turf of at least one major street gang and the crime-plagued 19th Street corridor. There, four out of seven categories dropped in 2011."

Police Superintendent John Chella told the Gazette that "city lawmakers have been pleased with the results. So have local business leaders."

One business leader was quoted in the article. "I think (a police initiative to reduce crime) did great," said Pine Avenue Business Association Executive Director Ernie Lucantonio. "It's so positive when we can do anything like that. It's a challenge, but we made some strides on Pine Avenue."

Chella added that the crime reduction efforts were in fact "economic development," saying, "economic development is safe neighborhoods and safe business districts."

In the Buffalo News, a different picture emerges. Daily, the News reports a litany of crimes that hardly make it seem this is a city with declining crime rates. From Sept. 20 to Sept. 30, the News published 53 stories in their Niagara Falls section online. Of these, 35 were crime related.

They included rape at gunpoint, robbery at gunpoint, shots fired, including those that hit other persons, criminal possession of a weapon, burglaries galore -- taken were jewelry, televisions, electronics, computers, bicycles, cash and wallets, as well as a rash of copper thefts -- not only from vacant houses but from occupied houses as well. Thieves stole people's plumbing right from their basements when they were out or asleep.

Drug sales, tourists robbed, cars stolen, checks stolen, forged and cashed, home invasions, felony assaults, criminal mischief, criminal tampering, sexual assault, knife attacks, stabbing, grand larceny, more home invasions, more shots fired and gunshot damage ... and that was only 10 days.

Reading these reports, one is not inclined to say crime is down. But then again, neither does the reporting of a variety of crimes typical in an urban area mean crime is up.

The Reporter spoke with active and retired police officers. Each insisted he would speak only on the condition that his name not be used, for fear of reprisals from the upper echelon of the police department, whose official position was enunciated in the Gazette article.

Each policeman the Reporter spoke to had read the Gazette story and felt it was inaccurate or misleading.

One of the reasons, one said, that crime may be up, while statistics indicate otherwise, is that certain unsolved crimes are not counted because they have not been proven. Several said that many crimes are not reported.

The main problem, each agreed, is that there are not enough police on patrol, and criminals know it.

"The (Gazette article) sugar-coated a lot of stuff," one officer said. "The story statistics were carefully chosen. It was carefully worded and (police officials) selected incidents that showed where reductions were in crime but did not reflect the real, true conditions on the streets."

Referring to the article's emphasis on bike patrols, the officer said, "I don't think bike patrols make streets safer. I don't know of a bike patrolman who ever foiled a major crime."

One officer told the Reporter, "Crime down in the city? Listen to the police scanner every night. Robbery, home invasions every f---in' night. It doesn't sound safe to me.

"Almost every night shots are fired. You don't see that in their statistics. When a bullet goes by your window or into your house or whizzes by your head -- that is reported, if it is reported at all, as criminal mischief. To me that's a serious crime. It all depends on how they write it up.

"The 19th Street corridor is the worst it has ever been. But there are robberies downtown. Every area has been hit. I can't tell tourists with their fanny packs and rented cars with valuables tucked inside, when they ask, 'Is it safe to go to the bars late at night?' -- I won't tell them it is."

One retired officer said, "Crime is up. Young criminals know their parents can't kick their ass -- that's illegal. They know their teachers can't kick their ass -- that's illegal. And now (because of a recently signed Attorney General consent order that mandates monitoring police for racial discrimination) they know the police can't kick their ass either. It's a bolder generation of criminals. And there are a lot more guns."

One policeman estimated there is a core criminal element in this community, "some of the same families, sometimes three generations of the same family, all criminals, mostly minority, that commit most of the crime in this city."

He started naming family names and added there are "about 2,000 solid assholes -- I mean, repeat offenders. If you could banish these out of this city, it would be like the way it was years ago, with little crime and safe streets. Two thousand criminals are holding the other 48,000 hostage.

"And now criminals have a tool to deter or defeat law enforcement. If they are arrested, all they have to do is file a complaint with the AG and a policeman could lose his career.

"If you don't think that has an effect on law enforcement in this city, then you might as well believe crime is down. The police are demoralized. With this consent order, police are guilty until proven innocent. (Mayor Paul) Dyster handed the crooks the playbook. The police are so frustrated now they drive around with blinders. I'm not saying they don't do reactive police work, but the enterprising, proactive work can get them into serious trouble. Criminals aren't afraid. All they have to do is file a complaint."

The genesis of the Attorney General consent order signed by the mayor that mandates hiring a private consulting firm to monitor the behavior of police in this city came from some 30 citizen/criminals who alleged that Niagara Falls police officers engaged in a pattern of "excessive use of force primarily against African-American residents."

Several police officers said they know they are going to be second-guessed and have to be careful not to use force, even in a deadly situation when trying to prevent violent crime, if it is committed by a miscreant who happens to be black.

Still, the question is not decided. The Gazette reported that the top brass of the police department say crime is down and streets are safe. Rank-and-file police officers say crime is up.

Asking people who live here may be informative, but is not conclusive. Calling about 20 or more people who live or operate businesses in the Falls got me universally the same answer as is the opinion of Dave Venditti, owner of Lox, Stock and Barrell on Niagara Street. He lives in the city. He said, "The crime rate? It's exploding."

Thomas S., who lives near the mayor, agreed, "Crime is up. On Friday night the working girls were working, the guys were on the corner selling drugs, and I didn't see a cop all night. There was a shootout last night. One weekend there were seven shootouts. I think a lot of it goes unreported."

George Satarian lives and operates a business in the Pine Avenue area. He said, "Crime is getting worse by the day. They robbed my car lot. Crime is real bad. The (police-installed) cameras on Pine Avenue don't even work. Crime going down? That's not how I see it."

Mike N. lives in LaSalle. He said, "Local home burglaries have gone up, that's for sure. Drugs, and it's not crack. They are doped up on pharmaceuticals. Definitely burglaries have gone up, if not violent crimes."

Enzo Luciani has owned and operated Pine Avenue Hardware for more than 50 years. He said, "You can't walk down Pine Avenue when it gets dark. It's unsafe. One guy I know got robbed (on his birthday), but it was not reported in the paper. There is more crime that people don't know about because it's not being reported."

Lou A., who lives near City Hall, said, "At the store across the street, I hear yelling and guns going off. They sell drugs there pretty plainly. I've never opened my blinds even once the last two years in my apartment. But I hear screaming, yelling, guns going off. I see cops frequently at some place or the other. When I came home from work the other day, I saw a cop near my apartment. There is plenty of crime where I live."

Freddie Mansour operates a business on Pine Avenue. "The whole thing is changing from good to bad," he said. "It's a scary thing. You can't walk on Pine Avenue after 8 p.m. If you own a house, you can't sell it. We need more cops. They only have six cars on patrol. If they get a call, three cars go, they have only three left. It's not enough to cover the area.

"At my business, they broke my window and stole all my cigarettes and left. The insurance will cover it, but my premium goes up.

"The criminals know that we have only a few cops around. We need more at midnight. We love the city. We can't leave the city. But we can't live in fear."

If space permitted I could fill up a hundred pages with good people who live here and think crime is up. I was at least preliminarily unable to find anybody who said crime was down.

The words of people who live here, while not conclusive, is indicative of the fact that many don't believe the official police spokespeople when they say in a mayoral election year that crime is down.

What do you think? Send us a letter at 1625 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303 or e-mail info@niagarafallsreporter.com and let us know.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 4, 2011