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Editorial: Containing the recent wave of homicides is vital for residents and the city’s future

It’s been a rough start to the year in Buffalo, with the city recording more homicides in the first few weeks this year than it has in at least a decade. By the weekend, the city had seen 15 homicides, or an average of about one every 4.5 days – and that doesn’t count the shootings where the victims survived.

Not only does the violence give the city a bad name, but even when killings are gang related, they inevitably put innocent people at risk. Dealing effectively with this spike in homicides is a difficult challenge for law enforcement, but it is urgent that it do so quickly. Fortunately, that effort appears to be well underway.

Not only Buffalo Police, but New York State Police and the FBI are pitching in to stem the flow of blood that has erupted in the city. That’s useful and it’s important. Containing the violence is a necessary to save lives and preserve the peace, of course, but it’s also a key to the city’s continued revival. So, for that matter, is preventing violence in the first place. That’s a longer-term proposition, but one that requires focused attention, as well.

There are several possible causes for the spike in homicides, including gang activity and the unusually warm weather that has put more gang members on the street than a cold snap would. Police say an influx in the number of guns on the street plays a significant role in the increased number of homicides. It’s hard not to imagine, too, that the crisis in opioid painkillers, which has pushed suffering individuals into the arms of  heroin dealers, might also have something to do with it. That’s a lucrative and apparently growing market that could easily produce armed and angry rivalries.

Making arrests and, with luck, discouraging future violence requires diligent police work, but that includes having sources that trust investigators. That can be a challenge in gang-infested neighborhoods where residents not only may fear reprisal, but also have little confidence in police. That’s a killer combination and one that requires work both by police and citizens.

The appeal of gang life is where a good portion of urban violence begins and that attraction is an outgrowth of closed-off opportunities, whether real or imagined. Thus, a powerful symbiotic relationship exists between Buffalo’s ongoing renewal and the reduction of gang violence.

By ensuring that the city’s revival extends into poor neighborhoods, creating jobs and avenues of opportunity, the appeal of gang life may fade. And in order to maintain and maximize the city’s resurgence, crime must be kept low and stressed neighborhoods must heal.

The linchpin of those intersecting issues is education, and that, too, seems to be in capable hands these days. Buffalo’s once-abysmal graduation rate is steadily rising and Superintendent Kriner Cash has set a goal of reaching 70 percent by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The work of Say Yes Buffalo, a nonprofit that promises a college education to students who otherwise couldn’t afford one, is also making a difference. With it, one cause of hopelessness has been demolished.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda notes, correctly, that a spurt of homicides doesn’t necessarily mean that it will continue, and he points to a three-month spike that occurred last year. As reassuring as that may be, the opposite is also true: Just because it didn’t continue last year doesn’t mean it won’t this time.

That’s just one of the reasons it is important that police agencies work together in this matter. Residents need to do their part, too, if police are to have their best chance to ensure that this skein of homicides comes to a halt.

Even when it’s over, though, everyone needs to work on changing the dynamics that feed the violence.

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