LOCKPORT – The Lockport Police Department will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall on its response to a rash of recent gunfire incidents.
“We’ve had half a dozen shootings in the past month or so,” Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said.
Not all of them involve people being wounded, the chief added. Some were discharges of gunfire without injury.
But the situation differs from that last year which led to the creation of an official Impact Zone centered around Washburn Street. Saturation patrols made their mark.
“We did get the crime down quite a bit,” Eggert said.
But this time, the gun incidents are more widely scattered around the city, on such streets as Walnut, Pine, Porter, Lock, North Adam and Spalding.
“They’re happening in a greater geographic area,” Eggert said. “We want to let the public know we’re arresting them as they happen.”
Of six recent gun incidents, four have ended in arrests. In another, Eggert said police know who did it but haven’t been able to locate the shooter.
In a sixth, in which a man showed up at the Eastern Niagara Hospital emergency room with a gunshot wound he refused to explain, police have made no headway.
A couple of the incidents involved people shooting at houses from outside.
Eggert said the department is soliciting questions for Tuesday’s meeting through its Facebook page.
“The problem is, I don’t know the social dynamic to it,” Eggert said. “It all devolves to drugs.”
And that means the shootings aren’t random, but targeted at people involved in the drug trade.
The trouble has arisen as the Police Department roster stands at 43 members not counting Eggert, its lowest level in several years.
Since Jan. 1, the police have been working 12-hour shifts under terms of a new contract between the city and the police union, the Hickory Club Police Benevolent Association.
Eggert said, “There’s some burnout factors we have to watch for, and overwork, and some morale issues we’ll keep an eye on.”
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said at the midyear mark, the Police Department has spent about half of the $365,000 overtime budget it was allocated. The new schedule didn’t alter the minimum staffing level per police shift, which remains at six officers.
“The officers work more hours but fewer days,” Eggert said.
McCaffrey said the city’s financial crisis means it is unlikely to allow Eggert to fill two vacancies created by retirements since Jan. 1.
Nor is the city making any move toward civilian dispatchers, which the new union contract allows. Eggert said if the city went that route, he would hire four dispatchers, one for each of his four platoons, and they would likely be paid about $30,000 a year plus benefits.
“It would be additional expense in the budget,” McCaffrey said.
“If we put civilians in, it would reduce our overtime,” Eggert said.
The contract says civilian dispatchers would have to be members of the Hickory Club, which means the city can’t move dispatcher duties to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. Eggert said if the city wants to shift dispatching to the county, the union, the county and the city would have to make a deal to get around the contract provision, as North Tonawanda did in 2012.