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HOMEOWNERS AID IN FIGHTING CRIME

Hundreds of Buffalo's blocks never see a serious crime and rival the suburbs in safety, according to a statistical analysis of 911 calls for police services in the city.

Even neighborhoods in some of the city's roughest sections rarely experience violent crime, though mayhem may only be a stone's throw away.

City police this year have been locking up criminals in record numbers, but it's the residents themselves who hold the key in stopping crime from creeping into their neighborhoods and homes, analysts say.

"The key factor in having a safe neighborhood is owner-occupied homes. People who own and live in the homes tend to call police if they see a stranger in the neighborhood," said Broadway Station Detective Daniel A. Dill, who with his partner, John M. Bohen, works in the city's busiest precinct.

"With rentals, the tenants don't know who is a stranger because there's such a transition of occupants, and there's always reluctance to cooperate with police for fear of retaliation," Dill added.

Buffalo also is part of a national trend that has seen crime rates drop. The city experienced a 15 percent reduction last year in violent offenses and with the exception of auto thefts this year, crime in all major categories was down 9 percent for the first six months.

The number of 911 calls also has steadily decreased. There were 308,565 in 1993; 290,817 in 1994, and 287,695 in 1995.

"Buffalo has always been a safe city among the major cities. The key is to have strong neighborhoods and that's why so much of our emphasis is on community policing," said Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske in referring to efforts to promote closer partnerships between citizens and officers.

"Clearly, the amount of crime reported in the city is higher than the suburbs, but the vast majority of city neighborhoods are very safe," he said. "This is the fourth year of a decrease in crime in the city, while suburban areas have either remained stable or, in some cases, experienced an increase."

The introduction of crack cocaine earlier this decade spawned some of the bloodiest years the city had witnessed, with drive-by shootings and turf wars among drug dealers.

Public accounts of these events left Buffalo with an image as an unsafe, even dangerous place.

But throughout it all, many neighborhoods were and still remain quiet, peaceful havens for families, according to police officials and residents.

Charles Terrana, who operates Charles Optical at 1110 E. Lovejoy St., was offended recently when a West Side business man suggested he purchase a gun to protect himself.

"I had gone to him to get a sign for my business. He asked where it was and I said on the East Side. I was bit insulted when he said I better get myself a gun. I said, 'No, you don't know Lovejoy,' " Terrana said. "It's one of those pockets where crime is relatively low."

Over a 12-month period starting July 30, 1995, and ending Aug. 1, 1996, police received four 911 top priority calls for assistance in the Lovejoy neighborhood.

"Priority one" calls, the most serious, involve possible shootings, stabbings and other potentially life-threatening situations.

"I used to live in Cheektowaga and sometimes I think it's better here in Lovejoy where I've lived 10 years. I've never had any problems, or seen any serious crime. I've got three teen-age daughters and they've never had a problem," Jeff Flor of Benzinger Street said.

Another example is John Paul Court, which is adjacent to two of Buffalo's most dangerous streets, Townsend and Detroit. Yet safety flourishes on John Paul Court, according to Dill and Bohen.

"Here's the difference: These homes are owner-occupied," Bohen said last week as he drove an unmarked police car along the horseshoe-shaped street lined with 41 tidy single-family homes. "This is the 'burbs' of our precinct."

"I've never been here on John Paul Court for a crime," Dill added.

Evelyn Beaman, who has lived on John Paul in the William Street-Fillmore Avenue neighborhood since her house was built in 1991, agreed the street is safe.

"I've never seen any crime on the street. It's quiet and I've never had any trouble," she said.

The detectives, in mentioning the "burbs," took a swipe at residents from surrounding towns who, they claim, help fuel inner-city crime.

"People come in from the suburbs at night to buy drugs. When you see a guy in a sports utility vehicle riding around here at 3 in the morning, you just know he has no business here, except to buy drugs," Bohen said.

Sabata Ferguson, who lives on Townsend Street, says he would move to a safe neighborhood if given the chance.

"You hear sirens all the time, but as long as I keep my door locked, I feel comfortable at home and don't think about the crime," said Ferguson, an art major at Erie Community College City Campus.

In a neighborhood tract that takes in Townsend, Detroit, Wilson and Coit Streets, police received approximately 6,599 calls for assistance over 12 months dating back to July 1995. Among those 911 calls were 218 classified as priority one.

In contrast, several tracts roughly the same geographic size, but situated in North and South Buffalo, experienced no priority one calls for the same time period, according to Capt. James P. Giammaresi.

The computerized findings, the first endeavor of its kind by the department's year-old Crime Analysis Office Giammaresi heads, divides the city into 400 reporting districts, most consisting of several blocks.

Next year, Giammaresi hopes the computer program used for the analysis will be expanded to pinpoint the exact numbers of actual crimes and the addresses where the incidents occurred with computerized mapping.

Numerous 911 calls, he noted, often turn out to be unfounded or incorrectly reported by callers.

Areas of the city generating the smallest numbers of 911 calls have high concentrations of owner-occupied residences, Giammaresi said.

"Officers often transfer out of South Buffalo and North Buffalo because it is too quiet for them," he said, noting both areas have large numbers of owner-occupied homes.

The officers often seek assignments in the "busy" sections of the city where they are more apt to have a chance at fighting crime, police officials said.

But for Joseph W. Buscaglia, Elizabeth A. Eldridge and Christopher Murphy, the so-called busy areas are a world away from the quiet settings they call home.

"I'd say there are a lot of safe neighborhoods in Buffalo and Bame Avenue is one of them. I've lived here since 1951 and have never seen any serious crime," said Buscaglia of Bame Avenue in the Kensington section.

"I've never heard of any violent crime in this neighborhood, though there have been some house break-ins over the years," said Ms. Eldridge of St. Lawrence Avenue in North Buffalo.

And on Eden Street in South Buffalo, residents are taking steps to keep the street safe.

"Our street is one of the safest around, but we've had people come into the neighborhood trying to break into cars and houses, so we're organizing a block club," said Murphy. "Everyone on this block watches out for one another."

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