Chippewa Street bar and property owners say they can no longer afford to pay off-duty police officers to provide extra security on Friday and Saturday nights. And while the police have not seen any increase in crime, the Chippewa Entertainment District Association is searching for a way to bring back the extra security, which ended two weeks ago.
"Our fears are there will be more problems without the private police patrol," said Jim Alfieri, president of the association and owner of the Crocodile Bar. "Without the visibility of the police, we're afraid the problems will increase."
Bar owners were especially worried because until Thursday, about a dozen street lights in the entertainment district were out since several underground electrical cables caught fire during the July 4th weekend. Niagara Mohawk fixed most of the problem within a few days of the city notifying the utility company, but a few of the lights remained out. Chippewa businesses called both the city and Niagara Mohawk weeks ago, Alfieri said.
The Chippewa Entertainment District Association started hiring off-duty officers last July with about 25 businesses and property owners chipping in $60,000. Only about 16 are participating this year, contributing $40,000. The Chippewa Entertainment District Association had been counting on $20,000 promised by Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis.
"If we hadn't been promised the money from the Council member we would have started the patrol later in the season and cut back on the patrol so it would have lasted all summer," Alfieri said.
Davis said he originally thought he could help but later learned that under federal regulations money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could not be used in the Chippewa area for security.
"I am committed to working with the Chippewa Entertainment folks, but block grant money is out, and we don't have discretionary funds," Davis said.
Frank Parisi, owner of Soho, would like to see the extra security come back. Crime hasn't increased in the past two weeks without the off-duty officers, he said, but it's a good precaution.
"You see police on the street, and it gives you a sense of safety," he said.
Having extra security at crowded venues is always a good idea, said George M. Loncar, chief of the police district that includes Chippewa.
"We don't have the luxury any more of bringing in additional people on an overtime basis to patrol any of these venues," he said. "We just don't have the manpower to do it. If we do have additional manpower available, we will assign them there."