Fillmore District residents told Mayor Griffin Tuesday night that they want more police protection.
He told them a city law is hampering efforts to do that.
During a public meeting attended by 200 residents in the Polish Community Center, Griffin said he was willing to take officers out of his own neighborhood and assign them to high-crime areas, but he said that the law prevented him.
Police Commissioner Ralph V. Degenhart and District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon joined him in criticizing the law that requires at least 44 officers in each precinct.
"In South Buffalo," Griffin said, "we don't need 44 policemen at Precinct 9 (Southside Station) or Precinct 15 (South Park Station). We could put them in precincts that need them. We're working to get Precinct 8 (Fillmore Station) moved to the Broadway Market, because it would be more central."
Griffin drew applause when he told Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk that, if requested, he would increase foot patrols in the Fillmore District. Franczyk arranged the community meeting, which focused on the increase in violent crime in that area.
If it were not for a union agreement requiring two officers per car, Griffin said, he would assign one officer per patrol car in safer neighborhoods, which would free the second officer for duty in the Fillmore District.
"Those laws tie the police's hands," Dillon said. "We have this problem, the last eight months, of drive-by shootings, which you're all so familiar with. We put together a special task force, (but) one of the problems we had in reacting was the inflexibility the Police Department has."
Still, Degenhart said, a special drug detail made 1,501 arrests in the last two months and a task force assigned to stop the "drive-by" shootings made another 48 arrests during the last month.
"Since I've been mayor, we've put 102 policemen back in the precincts from soft jobs they had in other places," Griffin said.
Dillon commended Fillmore residents for the large turnout but bristled at suggestions that citizens need not report crimes because few criminals are convicted or jailed.
During the first nine months of 1990, he said, more than 90 percent of felony cases in Erie County ended in convictions. Last year, the state prison system released 21,500 inmates but took in 28,500 and is now filled at 126 percent of capacity, he said.
"Drugs are at the core of the problem," Dillon said.
He noted that last year 45.5 percent of those sent to state prisons were convicted of felony drug charges. He added that 24 percent of all Erie County indictments are drug cases.
Degenhart said only one drive-by shooting has occurred on the East Side since the Buffalo police and other agencies established the task force. Several of the 48 arrested suspects are in jail, awaiting prosecution, he said.
During the question period, Josephine Golata, a Fillmore District senior citizen, asked why the police force is down by 300 officers.
"We had 1,400 policemen -- when there was less crime," she said. "Now, we only have 1,100. Where are those 300 men? We want to be protected. We're all locking our doors at 5 o'clock. We will not take a chance and help anybody that's on the outside, because we're afraid."
Degenhart said that the cutback occurred toward the end of the Mayor Stanley M. Makowski's administration and that the department now is authorized to have 1,069 officers.
Also debated at length was Griffin's veto of Franczyk's proposal that would have required the licensing of landlords. The mayor said it would have required owner-occupants to pay a licensing fee as well, if they rented two or more units to non-relatives.
"We don't care for any Band-Aid approach," Griffin said. "Just because some legislation is passed, that doesn't mean that slumlord is going to clean up his house. We need stricter laws and stiffer fines for slumlords, but some judges in City Court are just too lenient."
The mayor had a hot exchange with the Rev. Karl Kolodziejski, associate pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church, who said the licensing of landlords should have been approved. The priest said that if landlords added the fee to rents, it would cost the average tenant only about $1.10 a month.
"If a man is given no license to operate a rooming house, either he's going to bring it up to code or he'll have to get out," Father Kolodziejski said. "We won't have two years (of court delays) of this guy soaking the poor people."
"I disagree with you and with Councilman Franczyk," Griffin replied. "It's great to get up there and make a great statement, and everybody applauds you. But it isn't true. Have you ever called me about this in your 14 years?"
"Not personally," Father Kolodziejski said.
"You call me," Griffin told him. "We had 4,492 inspections in the Fillmore District and made 13,000 callbacks (since 1988). We've got 51 inspectors, and (six of them) are here tonight to take your complaints."