Buffalo's top law enforcer met with the Common Council on Thursday, expecting to deliver an upbeat report on anti-crime efforts and highlight progress in holding down costs.
But Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina's "State of the Police Department" presentation took a contentious turn as the focus shifted to frustrations about problems ranging from drug trafficking and prostitution in some neighborhoods to crime around schools.
The 2 1/2 -hour meeting ended with police officials agreeing to consider some new anti-crime strategies, including a possible door-to-door outreach effort in targeted neighborhoods next spring.
But Diina repeatedly clashed with Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson over accusations that officers do not walk beats in Masten and ignore known drug houses. He accused Thompson of grandstanding, warning him that all the "negativity" only creates false impressions that the entire East Side is a "war zone."
Diina also elaborated on controversial remarks he made last month, when he noted that most recent homicide victims in the city have been convicted criminals. He acknowledged that the observation might sound harsh but said that it underscores the fact that violent crime is as much a social problem as it is a police problem.
"A lot of the victims enhanced their vulnerability by the style of life they were living," he said.
At one point, Diina told the Council that he would not be "dictated to," contending that the department's success in slashing overtime costs would be derailed if he "did everything everyone wanted me to do."
"I'm not trying to be a cop," Thompson retorted. "I just want my neighborhood to be safe and clean."
Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. said he is worried about criminal activity near some West Side schools and wants to see a greater police presence.
"I think some schools are a firecracker ready to explode," Bonifacio warned.
The Police Department has only two school resource officers citywide, making it impossible to monitor all facilities, police officials acknowledged.
Bonifacio also complained about rampant prostitution in some neighborhoods. "I used to call them ladies of the evening, but they're ladies of the daytime now," he said. "Because there are so many of them out there, they have to work days."
Diina, who was joined by eight top police officials, struggled to keep a positive focus to the meeting. "There's a lot of good to talk about, and we're talking about a lot of negativity," he said.
Among findings in the report:
FBI Uniform Crime Report figures indicate that police services in Buffalo cost about 21 percent less per resident than in cities of comparable size. The total number of employees in the Police Department was 18 percent lower than the average, he said.
Police overtime hours have plummeted from 195,104 eight years ago, to 36,433 in the 2003-04 fiscal year. In a one-year period, overtime hours dropped by 42 percent, according to Diina.
The number of homicides between Jan. 1 and Oct. 25 dropped by 6.5 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier, while the number of robberies was down by 15.6 percent.