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Protection for officials increases in Falls ; Kinder talk urged in wake of shooting

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said his open meetings with constituents on the "mayor's night in" are a lot like the "Congress in Your Corner" public meeting at which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and seriously wounded on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz.

Dyster schedules "night in" meetings periodically at City Hall to meet informally with as many constituents as possible. He views the meetings as an opportunity to answer questions from residents and keep abreast of their concerns.

He invites visitors to talk with him one-on-one about any subject, and no advance registration is required.

Dyster has not been threatened with harm at any of the "mayor's night in" meetings, but he told members of the City Council after the shooting in Arizona that police protection for local public officials has been stepped up quietly and unobtrusively in recent weeks.

That includes at the Pine Avenue office of Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Rochester, whose front window was shattered by vandals last year after she voted in favor of health care reform.

Dyster said he supported the dialogue that permits public officials to strongly disagree with one another on many issues, but suggested that the disagreements be conducted with decorum and politeness, not with threats and harsh rhetoric.

"We can disagree, but we can be kinder and gentler about it," he said.

Some analysts have suggested that the shooting of Giffords at a constituent outreach meeting outside a shopping center could have been prompted by harsh criticism from some of her political opponents.

Giffords, a Democrat, was shot through the head, and continues to improve in a Tucson hospital.

The Jan. 8 attack killed six people and wounded 13. A suspect, Jared L. Loughner, 22, has been arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder of federal employees.

Closer to home in recent weeks, a uniformed police officer has been stationed in Niagara Falls City Hall during business hours. Dyster said the officer's presence helped to make the building more secure. No serious threats against any public officials have been reported there.

Police Chief John Chella said, "Niagara Falls has been very proactive in assuring public safety." He added that increased patrols have been assigned to areas around public offices.

City Administrator Donna D. Owens added that the city "needed to take a look at keeping our citizens and officials safe."

Dyster is a member of a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and he endorsed statements issued by the coalition's co-chairmen, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston.

The statements mainly offered condolences to the Tucson victims and their families, and Bloomberg added:

"A coalition of more than 500 mayors from across the country -- from both political parties -- are dedicated to fighting gun violence. It is an uphill struggle, but if all of us join it -- if all of us speak out -- I believe we really can make a difference and save lives."

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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