A former Buffalo police officer retiring this week as head of security for Buffalo Place Inc. said Wednesday that the Police Department's vow to enhance patrols on Main Street has been a "raggedy effort."
Ronald F. Coyle stressed that strides have been made in improving downtown security, noting that crime along the Main Street Pedestrian Mall plummeted by 28 percent during the first nine months of last year when compared with 1997 figures.
Nevertheless, Coyle said that a security initiative launched four years ago by the Police Department has not lived up to its potential because not enough manpower has been dedicated to the effort.
The concern has surfaced every year since the Downtown Initiative began in 1995, when 13 officers were put on the Main Street beat. Buffalo Place manages the 28 square-block area around the pedestrian mall.
Police manpower levels have fluctuated and the initiative is currently at eight officers, some of whom are redeployed when situations arise in other sections of the city.
Last May, former Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske assured downtown planners that more officers would be deployed.
"Kerlikowske promised us the world, then left town two months later," Coyle said, referring to the commissioner's appointment to a post with the Clinton administration in Washington.
Some officials from Buffalo Place were even more pointed in their criticism during Wednesday's board meeting. Carl P. Paladino, who owns the Ellicott Square and several other downtown properties, accused the city of shortchanging the central business district and giving "lip service" to security efforts.
"We pay huge taxes for services that we're not getting. We have to get mad . . . we have to start holding their feet to the fire," said Paladino.
But Mark Blankenberg, the Police Department's chief of patrol, insisted that downtown "is well taken of" when compared with other parts of the city.
"It's a balancing act. We would love to have a cop on every corner, but overtime would be substantial. Carl Paladino's taxes would double," said Blankenberg.
He said that even in the early years of the Downtown Initiative, there were never 13 full-time officers assigned to Main Street. He said those figures included a number of detectives who were only used on an as-needed basis.
Blankenberg said police officials are currently studying new strategies that could improve downtown deployment efforts. But he stressed that all city departments are facing budget constraints.
Paladino questioned the Police Department's use of existing officers.
"When we have a Sabres game that attracts 10,000 people, police officers are bumping into each other. Every day, we have 45,000 people downtown and there is a total absence of uniforms on Main Street."
Not true, said Blankenberg, who said that two officers are on the beat every day and two K-9 patrols maintain a strong presence on Main Street.
Coyle, a 37-year law-enforcement veteran, has headed Buffalo Place security for nearly four years and is credited with helping improve downtown's public perception. A recent survey indicated that 57 percent of all residents in the Buffalo area think of downtown as "somewhat safe."
Buffalo Place has received 35 resumes from individuals who are interested in succeeding Coyle. A committee has narrowed the list to eight semifinalists and officials could select a new security chief within a week.