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Passion drives this crime fighter


You see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice and see it in his actions.

The passion of this unmasked crime fighter in Niagara Falls is getting results.

Roger Spurback, 54, has helped to organize 70 crime watch groups throughout the city and in Niagara County.

He founded the Niagara Falls Block Club Crime Watch Council nine years ago and has been its president for six of those years. In 2003, he founded the Niagara Falls Citizen Corps Council and still serves as its president. That group prepares the community for disasters and terrorism.

Spurback also has served as president of the Niagara Street Business Association, Neighborhood Housing Services, Niagara Falls Jogging Club, and has been on the executive board and been head coach for Midtown Little League, Niagara Falls Little Loop and the Niagara Falls Wrestling Club.

Spurback, who was in the Marine Corps and is a Vietnam War veteran, is now retired, but he had worked at Delphi Thermal Systems in Lockport, then as a corrections officer at Attica and Sing Sing after the auto parts plant laid him off. He grew up in Niagara Falls, with nine brothers and sisters, and graduated from Trott Vocational High School.

He and his wife, Rebecca, a nurse, have raised their son Nicholas, 28, and daughter Jennifer, 22, in Niagara Falls. Spurback said both have remained in the city and found successful jobs.

"My kids won't leave," he recently told The Buffalo News. "I've set the example for them. You stay and fight."

Spurback said he has seen the city's decline and now sees things turning around with the new casino bringing in new hotels and investments.

>What made you so passionate about crime watch in the city?

One of my best friends, Angelo Cusatis, was in a bar [on East Falls Street] shooting pool. He was the head coach of our wrestling program, and he was stabbed to death by a crack head. The next day I said to myself, 'It could have been me. This has got to stop.' It just made me more determined. I never carry a grudge, I don't get angry. People misinterpret it. It's passion.

>What group did you form?

I went back to my neighborhood from the wrestling club and formed the Home Neighborhood Association. By forming together the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, we encourage ]all the city block clubs]. There are always issues.

>Now you've gone beyond the city.

For the past five years, I've been a crime watch consultant to other cities. I tell them how to organize and what the results are of having a safe and secure community, a place where people want to move in, rather than move out.

>Why are block clubs important?

We are the eyes and ears. You don't stop at crime. One broken window leads to another, and all of a sudden it leads to 10, and then drug dealers move in. It is like a cancer, and we are the chemotherapy.

>How do you make it work?

In 2003, we received the national award for being the best crime watch organization in the United States, out of 1,800 strong organizations. Here's the secret. I learned this in the Marine Corps. It involves teamwork. Every successful organization has a strong leader, and they don't do it by themselves. But you're out there working, too.

I'm out there setting an example. You can't just tell them, go out and take graffiti off. Then it becomes dictatorial. Sometimes I have to give up 10 or 12 or 14 hours a day.

>Tell me about your graffiti identification program.

There was so much graffiti all over these dilapidated houses. We record all of the graffiti we have taken off. We identify it and turn it over to police. We also get streets repaved and houses torn down. We take care of the entire city. We can't push crime into an area that is not represented.

>What was Niagara Falls like when you were growing up?

I remember when Niagara Falls was the Old Falls Street, when East Falls Street was full of souvenir shops and restaurants, packed with people. Then urban renewal came along and destroyed everything. The city should have sued the federal government for not finishing what they started. They tore half of Niagara Falls down and should have been responsible for putting it back together again.

>Have you ever run for office?

I ran for office, City Council, in 1999. But I'm glad that I didn't get elected. I can get more done outside the political arena.

>You've worked with a lot of kids.

From [the wrestling] group, I realized that many came from poor neighborhoods. They were good kids, and I didn't want to see them turn into drug dealers. I started looking at the neighborhood. The young people needed direction. When I was a prison guard, I saw good kids in prison who had been led astray because they didn't have role models. We used to see kids dealing drugs and we'd stop, get out and talk to them. We'd tell them there were better ways.

>You also must have seen that you need to change their neighborhoods.

We encourage the kids to pay back the community by cleaning up the neighborhoods. Quality of life is about the whole fabric of a neighborhood.


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