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Gipson plans attention to quality-of-life issues

Incoming police commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson hopes to tailor Rudolph Giuliani's strategy for cleaning up Times Square to Buffalo, empowering officers to pay closer attention to "little things" that harm quality of life.

Gipson, who will become commissioner next Monday, said the offensive will target everything from prostitution and drinking in public, to loitering and traffic offenses. Businesses that tolerate disruptive or illegal behavior outside their establishments will also be held responsible, he said.

"The focus of the entire department needs to be on community policing," Gipson said Monday at an informal meeting with Common Council members.

But he made it clear that community policing goes far beyond just having officers walking the beat. He said he plans to find new ways to make police officers "more inquisitive and active" in their assigned areas. Council members have long complained that the Police Department hasn't been vigilant in cracking down on nuisances that they think contribute to Buffalo's shrinking population. The issue resurfaced when five of nine Council members met with Gipson for the first time since Mayor Byron W. Brown nominated him last week to become police commissioner.

Council President David A. Franczyk claimed an enforcement blitz launched last year to curb noise has since ebbed. Another problem, said Michael P. Kearns of the South District, involves motorists who run stop signs and create life-threatening hazards.

Gipson agreed there needs to be a heightened focus on enforcing many laws, including speeding regulations.

"You have to be doing 110 miles an hour in the City of Buffalo to get a speeding ticket," he told Council members.

Gipson also outlined other visions he has to improve policing, including:

Restructuring the Detective Division. He thinks changes can be made that would further strengthen the narcotics and homicide units. He also plans to give district detectives more responsibilities.

"We could get more bang for our buck out of our current cadre of detectives," he said.

Expanding youth courts, a program that gives young people insight into the legal system and provides alternative sentencing options for lesser offenses. He has already spoken to Western New York Chief Administrative Judge Sharon S. Townsend about such plans.

Working more closely with judges. Gipson has spent the past eight years working in top managerial positions in the Erie County Sheriff's Department, and has forged working relationships with judges. He hopes to develop initiatives that would see the Police Department and the judiciary work more closely.

Council members seemed to like what they heard. Lawmakers will hold a confirmation hearing for Gipson a week from today. They plan to vote on his nomination Feb. 21. Franczyk said that while there are still issues that must be discussed, he thinks Gipson will be confirmed for the $105,824 job.

"It's clearly his to lose," he said.

Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. cited Gipson's 27-year career in the city Police Department, 17 years as an officer.

"You're a beat cop who did his job," Bonifacio told Gipson.

But Kearns said his vote in favor of Gipson is tied to his making a commitment to increase police manpower in the South District.

"The numbers [of officers] in my district are deplorable," said Kearns.

Gipson didn't discuss manpower issues in any detail. But he reaffirmed his desire to "revisit" a plan that calls for a continued downsizing of the force to 675 officers. Gipson said more than 100 officers on the 774-person force are on injured-on-duty status, meaning that the city is already operating with about 675 officers.

Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis told Gipson he thinks one of the biggest concerns involves the push to continue shrinking the force.

"This is one area we shouldn't be cutting bodies in," said Davis. "We should be increasing patrols."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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