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Some Common Council members fear that cuts in the Municipal Housing Authority's public safety unit could cause increased crime and create heavier workloads for the Buffalo Police Department.

They are also worried that the public safety division might be abolished in the wake of continuing cuts in federal aid.

Sharon M. West, the authority's executive director, downplayed speculation that there might be a total phase-out of public safety functions by next summer.

But West said cuts in federal funding make it necessary to proceed with a downsizing that has already eliminated nine officers and will result in three more officers' being cut Dec. 31. Currently, 34 staffers are assigned to public safety.

Starting next month, the Housing Authority plans to eliminate all roving patrol cars, assigning officers to specific housing developments. City police officers would handle all 911 calls.

West said the Police Department already responds to high-priority calls in housing developments. She said the changes must still be approved by the authority's board, but she said she has been directed to proceed with a consolidation of the public safety and management departments.

The state control board that oversees city finances has been encouraging the Housing Authority for months to study strategies for reducing security costs, including the use of other police agencies.

The Common Council has no power over day-to-day operations in the Housing Authority. But some lawmakers prodded housing officials to reconsider cuts in public safety.

University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, whose district includes the Kenfield/Langfield Housing Development, said she will push for hearings to assess what impact the reductions might have on anti-crime efforts.

"I think it would be foolish to cut any type of public safety services," said Russell, who plans to put the issue on next
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week's Council meeting agenda.

Joseph Golombek Jr. represents the North District, which is home to several city housing developments. He said police officers in his district are already overworked and handle the highest volume of calls in the city.

"These changes will mean that police officers are going to have additional jobs to do," Golombek said.

Officials from Local 825, Civil Service Employees Association, which represents authority public safety officers, said the unit answers 8,000 to 12,000 calls a year. Many calls involve quality of life issues such as apartment lockouts and tenant disputes.

West disagreed that the changes will place unrealistic burdens on city officers, saying the authority will work closely with the Police Department. She said she doesn't think the downsizing will in any way jeopardize the safety of public housing residents.

West said the authority has lost $1 million in federal funding this year and could lose another $1 million in July.


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