Buffalo gets 18 new housing peace officers today.
Thanks to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, they will ride in new cars, be equipped with pistols and be ready to work as counselors, role models and social workers in the city's 27 public housing projects.
They were graduated Friday at Erie Community College South Campus and sworn in as Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority police officers, boosting the agency's force to 49.
That is up almost 50 percent from three years ago, when Chief Patrick McCarthy and BMHA Executive Director Lawrence A. Grisanti decided that security had to be increased in the city's housing projects.
"It's evident you worked hard," Grisanti told the 18 graduates and an audience of about 100 friends and relatives. "Your scores average almost 90 points."
"Now remember what it says on the side of our cars: 'To Protect and Serve.' That's what it's all about. God and your families gave you good common sense; you just have to use it," he said.
Grisanti, Deputy Mayor Samuel Iraci, McCarthy and BMHA Chairman Arthur Sullivan echoed those sentiments. But tenants had a few curves to throw at the rookie officers.
"Let me give you a word to the wise," said Lillian Fisher, Tenant Council president of the Commodore Perry project. "Become part of the community. Get out of your cars, drop into the tenant councils, get to know the community."
Joseph Totaro of the Kenfield-Langfield project said the tenants "want to see you."
"We know that the crimes, the drug wars, the robberies are mostly committed by non-tenants," he said. "We don't feel safe."
"So get out of those cars and walk through the projects, talk with the tenants. They'll help you, not hurt you," Totaro said.
Grisanti said the expansion of the force is possible through a three-year HUD grant totaling almost $800,000.
"Some of you officers will be paid under that grant, and later this spring, when we buy six police dogs and select six officers to become the first housing police K-9 Corps in the county, that will be from that grant, too, " he said.
"Some of that money will go to start a tenant patrol, with tenants working side by side with you men," Grisanti said.
Class valedictorian Namon Barlow said the seven weeks of intensive training at the county's Central Police Services school at ECC South saw the recruits live through "our own cultural melting pot."
"But we made friendships that will last forever -- they'll have to, because we'll be counting on each other."
"We're here," Barlow said, "we're trained and ready to do a job, and I hope we will do a good job for you."