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Toward a safer city Decrease in violent crimes welcome, routine problems still need work

The downward trend in violent crime in the City of Buffalo, following the sharpest percentage increase in homicides in the entire state from 2005 through 2006, is welcome news. According to FBI statistics, homicides here increased 30.4 percent in those two years, from 56 in 2005 to 73 in 2006 -- an even higher spike than New York City experienced. But what is most interesting is the subsequent sharp decrease in violent crime, particularly homicides, this year.

Overall, violent crime dropped 24 percent in the first five months of this year, compared to the same period in 2006. Arrests have increased. There remains a problem with routine quality-of-life complaints such as noise violations and graffiti, but the city is safer.

Trying to explain or predict crime waves is a lot like trying to explain or predict the weather. But good police work, in both patrols and investigations, undoubtedly plays a significant role in the decline. The Police Department and its leaders deserve credit.

Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration has had its street safety challenges since entering office, as Buffalo experiences the type of gang wars that many urban areas are accustomed to. But city officials can point to a number of reasons for the decrease in violent crime -- new initiatives such as the Mobile Response Unit to target gangs or the use of high-tech surveillance cameras in high-crime areas, for example. And Brown, who rightly budgeted for new police hiring to offset retirements, continues to lobby the state for more funding so that 100 more officers can be added.

Brown has taken the sort of "broken windows approach" that former New York mayor and current presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani used so well downstate. In addition to a Baltimore-modeled tracking and planning program, called CitiStat, the mayor has focused on quality-of-life issues as a key to improving conditions and cutting crime in city neighborhoods, and that still needs work. But here's hoping the major-crime trend continues even as the summer heats up, and that the city's efforts deliver long-term benefits to city residents.

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