Police are investigating possible connections between drugs, guns and small retail stores on the city's East Side, a high-ranking Buffalo police officer said Thursday night.
In addition, Capt. Martin Jurewicz, commander of the Genesee Station, which recorded the city's most homicides last year, confirmed that his precinct will be the testing ground for a new firearms seizure program.
Both developments were revealed Thursday night during a community meeting organized by the Community Action Information Center in its new headquarters at 103 Wohlers Ave. The meeting was called to address such concerns as crime, clean streets, trash collection and problem properties on the East Side.
Donald Dade, chairman of center board, asked Capt. Philip Ramunno of the police Narcotics Unit whether police are investigating widespread suspicion in the African-American community that the increased availability of guns and drugs in the area is somehow connected to "mom and pop" stores in the neighborhoods.
"We have been working on this for six months, and there will be arrests," Ramunno said, adding that police are mapping out connections between illegal activity and a number of sites.
Officer Kim Miller, community liaison officer for the Cold Spring Station, told residents that she and block club leaders are attempting to meet with store owners and get them to halt activities that make many in the community perceive them as the focus for crime.
"We are going to be asking store owners not to sell drug paraphernalia, loose cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets to anyone under age," Officer Miller said.
She said parents must stop sending their children to the store with notes for items they should not be able to purchase.
Ramunno told residents that the pace of narcotics traffic in the city is frantic, noting that his officers executed 123 search warrants on suspected drug houses in the first 2 1/2 months of this year compared with about 300 search warrants a year when he took over the unit a few years ago.
Jurewicz told residents that his precinct, which recorded 30 homicides last year, will be the testing ground for a new firearms interdiction program aimed at identifying people with guns and seizing them.
"What we will need is cooperation," he said. "There will be a number for people to call."
Rosa Gibson, president of the center, praised the Police Department's community policing efforts.
"They've been doing a good job, and we have a beautiful relationship that we want to continue," she said. "The only way we are going to keep our community safe and clean is that we all have to get involved."
Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, who attended the meeting before leaving to respond to a report of a man with a gun in a house on Kensington Avenue, told the group that community liaison officers, who work directly with block clubs, will not be able to address all their problems.
"We are working with you, but there are only 32 police community officers in the city scattered throughout the city precincts," he said. "I would ask you not to burn out the officers. The problems are innumerable, and 911 does not solve all problems."