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Helfer calls for 'no-plea' zones, more firefighters, police

Buffalo mayoral candidate Kevin Helfer promised Saturday to hire more firefighters and police officers, increase neighborhood foot patrols and establish "no-plea zones" that force criminals to serve the maximum sentence allowed by law.

As part of an eight-point plan for fighting crime, Helfer also said he would establish a "broken windows" program, similar to the one that Rudolph W. Giuliani instituted while mayor of New York City. The program, said Helfer, a Republican, would help ensure quick responses to all types of problems, from serious crime to quality-of-life infractions.

"There's nothing more frustrating than the revolving door of crime," he said. "It's a different way of doing police work but it works."

Helfer's plan also calls for establishing a public safety department that would combine fire, police, emergency services and homeland security under one umbrella. The goal, he said, would be to consolidate administrative tasks and streamline communications to reduce costs and keep more officers and firefighters on the street.

If elected, Helfer also pledged to increase accountability among police managers by decentralizing police operations. He said he would assign a chief to each police district and give each district its own narcotics detectives.

"It's all about accountability," he said. "This is a model that works well in other cities, most notably New York City."

Under his eight-point plan, Helfer also would:

* Increase the number of police officers assigned to foot patrols and bike patrols to provide residents with a more secure and visible police presence.

* Hire 10 additional firefighters to eliminate skyrocketing overtime and, in the end, save the city money.

* Establish "no-plea" zones in certain neighborhoods. Crimes committed in these areas would not be subject to plea bargaining, and criminals convicted of such crimes would be required to serve the full punishment dictated by law.

Earlier this month, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark raised questions about the legality of "no-plea zones," a concept he had supported. Helfer said he had not seen Clark's communication or talked with him about his change of heart.

"If we can't do geographic zones, there are other ways to be creative in dealing with the revolving door of street crime and pleas," Helfer said.

* Hire 20 additional police officers to patrol the city's public housing developments because the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority recently eliminated its entire public safety department. Helfer said he would pay for the new officers by eliminating waste and patronage within the authority and selling the Marine Drive Apartments.

* Ensure that the police force is accredited on the state and national level. That, he said, would open the door to more state and federal funding.

Helfer also said the "broken windows" program would resolve problems before they escalate into serious crimes.

In New York City, police officers focusing on motor vehicle infractions discovered outstanding warrants for one of every seven drivers they pulled over.

Helfer said his anti-crime strategy would make Buffalo a model for public safety operations in the 21st century.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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