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According to sources, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster phoned police one recent weekend evening to report that "shots were fired" in his neighborhood. A policeman responded, searched the neighborhood, the alleys, etc., and found nothing.

Except for who made the call, it was hardly unique.

In Niagara Falls, thousands regularly hear the sound of gunfire. It's like the Wild West out here.

The top brass at the Niagara Falls Police Department, led by Superintendent John Chella, have repeatedly told the local news media that crime is down in Niagara Falls. Reported cases of serious crime, they say, are lower in some of the city's business districts. Arrests are up in several districts.

Overall, the mood of the people, I suspect, is that crime is not down. In a real sense, this is a city that feels it is in increasing danger from predatory people who will commit robbery at gunpoint, knifepoint, in gangs, commit burglaries, sell drugs on their streets with virtual impunity, invade their homes, and shoot guns in the dead of the night.

It has been estimated by police sources that about 2,000 repeat offender criminals -- many of them from extended families, some of them multi-generational, most of them men, most of them minorities -- are the cause of most of the crime in this city. Two thousand are holding the other 48,000 hostage.

To combat this, there are 140 policemen employed by the city of Niagara Falls.

At any given time, there are a total of six police cars patrolling the streets on a regular basis, with one uniformed policeman per car.

Think about those numbers: 140 policemen and only six on the road at a time. That seems disproportionately low, since most crime occurs on the streets.

I can't help but wonder if it's possible to reassign some of the current force in order to increase the number of patrol cars on the streets.

Would it be possible, for instance, to take a policeman from each of several "special" units and add a couple of the large number of officers assigned to desk jobs, and give them a car?

We could even consider reassigning the officer stationed at City Hall, where no crime has been known to have been committed. And instantly double street patrol.

Many people, who believe crime is on the rise, are calling for more cops on the streets.

Funny, isn't it? When people think about adding police, they always think in terms of more of them on patrol. They do not want police at the station doing paperwork. They do not think about them doing special investigative work. Or even protecting the mayor or his administrator Donna Owens at City Hall.

No, the people who pay the police -- the taxpayer, the frightened taxpayer -- want more police on patrol on the streets.

Recently, certain officials have been talking about seeking state permission to use casino funds to hire more police.

I would suggest, frugal people who are already taxed to the limit, that elected officials ought to seriously study whether or not we can better deploy the police we already have before hiring new ones.

Is there truly a shortage of police?

If so, then someone has to stand up and explain why, with a force of 140, there can't be more than six out at any one time.

When the Niagara Falls City Council met two weeks ago to review Mayor Paul Dyster's budget, all five members agreed on at least one thing: to cut the salaries for 2012 of City Administrator Donna Owens and City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka by $20,000 each. Owens' present salary is $110,000. Skurka's is $96,231.

The mayor, one imagines, is likely to veto the pay cuts to protect two of his key appointees. If he does, a super-majority -- or four votes on the council -- are required to override his veto.

Chances are, the mayor will attempt to persuade council members Kristin Grandinetti and Charles Walker to change their minds on the pay cuts. Walker will be the man to watch on this.

On the weekend prior to the election, Walker sent out a mailer to the black community asking them to vote for Alicia Laible, Dyster's hand-picked council candidate, who, as it turned out, lost narrowly to independent candidate Glenn Choolokian.

Walker's sudden endorsement of the mayor's candidate took Council Chairman Sam Fruscione and Councilman Robert Anderson by surprise, since Anderson was campaigning for re-election, and both he and Fruscione were campaigning for Choolokian. The mayor was campaigning for Laible, and Walker was seen as neutral, until the last minute.

If Laible had been elected, Walker may have planned to provide the mayor with the critical third vote, along with Grandinetti, needed to get passage on most initiatives. In return, I suspect, Walker would have likely been named council chairman for 2012 by virtue of his own vote and that of Grandinetti and Laible -- under, one presumes, the mayor's directive or recommendation.

But these plans, if they were indeed ever articulated, came to naught. Instead, an independent council will be in control, with Anderson, Choolokian and Fruscione, who is expected to remain as council chairman.

It remains to be seen whether Walker -- or, for that matter, Grandinetti -- will waffle on the council's pay-cut plan for Owens and Skurka. If the mayor vetoes the budget change, then both Walker and Grandinetti would have to change their minds for the pay cuts to go into effect.

On Halloween, City Engineer Jeffrey Skurka, as others did, apparently wore a costume to work. Skurka came dressed -- we are told - as a Knight Templar, white tunic or mantle, and all.

The Reporter got some frantic e-mails suggesting that Skurka was dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member, and recommending we make the most of it -- the sender perhaps not knowing that not everyone dressed in a white mantle is out of the KKK.

Skurka, we understand, is a learned student of the legend and history of the Knights Templar. He also apparently miffed several, if not all of the council by his, depending on who you listen to, defiant or independent attitude toward the council when asked to do certain tasks related to lights on Pine Avenue.

They did not click, to say the least.

Indeed, it certainly did not help him when it came time for the council to determine appropriate pay for his position.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 29, 2011