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'TIS THE SEASON TO BE WARY -- MERCHANTS EXPAND SECURITY TO MAKE SHOPPING SAFER

Would-be purse snatchers and pickpockets -- who often zero in on large store parking lots -- may have slim pickings in North Buffalo this season.

Most major stores along Delaware and Hertel avenues have security and/or surveillance outside their businesses, thanks largely to a recently formed Safe Shopping Coalition.

"We want to instill a feeling of well-being in North Buffalo residents about shopping in their own neighborhood," said a coalition leader, Michele Graves, crime prevention coordinator for the North Buffalo Community Development Center and the Parkside Community Association.

"We had a lot of complaints, particularly from senior citizens afraid to walk to and from their cars alone. Some of them had incidents. At least one said she was going to shop elsewhere because she didn't feel safe. We want to turn that around," Mrs. Graves said.

The Safe Shopping Coalition is composed of block-club leaders; Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola and his legislative assistant, Valaine Perez; Officer Sal Valvo of Buffalo Police Community Services, liaison officer for Precinct 17; a number of store owners and representatives, and Mrs. Graves.

Participating stores include the area's Tops and Super Duper markets, Delta Sonic, Hills and K mart. The most recent additions to the coalition are the Hertel-North Buffalo Business Association and Crisis Services, whose hot line often deals with crime victims. The Main-Amherst Business Association, in an area where there have been recent strong-arm robberies, has also expressed interest.

"We formed because we realized that some of the stores had to be told that crimes against shoppers in the area were on the rise, not just inside their stores but outside of them," said Mrs. Perez. "They had to hear that some of the people wouldn't shop in their stores anymore because they were afraid. We had the statistics from Precinct 17 to let the stores know what was happening."

The coalition sent a questionnaire, obtained from Coppola's office, to merchants in the area, asking them if they had security guards patrolling the areas outside their businesses and, if not, what other plans for surveillance they would have in effect by the Christmas season.

Merchants also were asked if they wanted assistance in organizing a safety program and about their plans for continued patrols in 1991.

"We've had a very good response, most stores are cooperating," said Mrs. Graves. "To my knowledge, it's the first time anything like this has been done in the area."

"This is the season for purse snatchers and people breaking into cars. If you have an off-duty Buffalo policeman in a parking lot -- just the uniform is a deterrent," Valvo said.

"When I shop in the area after work myself, sometimes I see cars parked way up in front of a store where they're not supposed to be and cars in the handicapped spaces that aren't supposed to be there either," he added. "This doesn't happen in lots that are patrolled."

"The coalition is good for the community. You have people here looking for betterment in their living conditions. It's good to have a place where they can bring their complaints, have something formed that's trying to resolve things before there are more crimes," Valvo said.

The Safe Shopping Coalition grew out of a forum in October to address the increase in purse snatches, bike thefts and other crimes at shopping centers.

"It was generally agreed upon at that time that the major stores along the Delaware strip were providing ample security within their establishments -- but failed to have an adequate program in their parking lots," said Mrs. Graves.

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