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Four months after a labor dispute ended Buffalo's participation in an elite, crime-fighting task force, the city has assembled a Major Crimes Squad.

The eight-member unit, which hits the streets tonight, has a different mission than the highly successful multiagency Violent Crime and Career Criminal Task Force, which focused on busting deadly, drug-dealing gangs.

Shootings other than homicides, kidnappings, home invasions and robberies will now see a swifter and more complete response by members of the newly formed squad, according to Buffalo police officials, who said serious crime requires serious attention.

"We've had instances in the past where people will call, and patrol officers will say investigators will get back to them in the morning or, in some cases, a day or two later," Deputy Police Commissioner John Battle said.

The squad will work every night of the week and will use the manpower resources formerly allocated by the city to the Career Criminal Task Force.

A split between the city and the FBI's heavily funded task force occurred after the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association won a grievance that stopped the police department from appointing officers to the task force based on ability rather than on seniority.

The FBI, which places a high priority on personnel performance, was unwilling to accept the ruling and "there was a mutual parting of the ways," one high-ranking Buffalo police official said.

As it turns out, the individuals appointed based on seniority to the Major Crimes Squad are all highly thought of by the department's brass.

The squad members are Detective Sgt. Philip Torre and Detectives Timothy Salamone, Gary Teague, Jimmie Larke, Richard Wagstaff, Daniel Rinaldo and Mark Vaughn.

Lt. John P. Fenger, formerly head of the Robbery Squad, will supervise the unit.

"These guys are all great investigators," Battle said. "Taxpayers will get the services they deserve."

One of the complaints raised about the city's detectives assigned to the Career Criminal Task Force was that only one of them was a minority despite the fact that most of the investigative work took place in African-American neighborhoods.

Three of the detectives with the Major Crimes Squad are black.

"Unlike the politically appointed Career Criminal Task Force, this squad is a diversified squad in racial makeup. It goes to show that basically, seniority gives every officer equal opportunity without political interference," said Lt. Robert Meegan, PBA president.

But there is no doubt the overtime dollars, unmarked cars, specialized training, computers and office space that were provided through membership in the task force by the FBI will be missed.

"My first challenge is to find an office, cars and computers," Fenger said last week when laying the groundwork for the Major Crimes Squad.

As for the Career Criminal Task Force, it is regrouping and defining a new focus, FBI Special Agent Paul M. Moskal said.

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