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Residents at forum urge police to get tough on gun crime Better cooperation between officers, witnesses is needed to solve more cases, officials say

Buffalo residents upset by unsolved murders and other crimes urged police and prosecutors Monday to crack down on criminals who carry guns.

They also asked for law enforcement officials to show more common sense when dealing with witnesses and some compassion for those whose loved ones have been murdered.

"We can't stop all the drugs, but we can crack down on illegal guns," said Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson, who organized the forum in the Common Council Chambers.

Without better communication between residents and police, even a Police Department that has become more aggressive in recent months will not be able to solve as many crimes as the public would like.

"People are scared to talk," said Darnell Jackson Sr., a former gang leader turned community activist. "Find a mechanism to make witnesses come forward without being scared."

The city's top police official asked for help.

"The police can do nothing if the citizens do not participate," Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson told the crowd of more than 120 people.

"We need people to step forward so we can successfully put the perpetrators behind bars for the length of time they deserve to go there," Gipson said.

The crowd liked much of what they heard from the new police commissioner; they applauded his mention of the department's zero-tolerance blitz on quality-of-life and drug-related crimes.

Gipson explained how he has reorganized the department's 85 detectives to make more detectives available to the five police districts and understaffed Narcotics Unit.

He cited establishment of a "cold case squad" to solve old homicides.

But many in the crowd have attended forums before, and while they praised Gipson's accomplishments over his first 32 days as commissioner, they also demanded results.

Jacqueline Davis, whose grandson, Michael D. Badgett Jr., 22, was gunned down Nov. 29 while visiting a Horton Place home, questioned why so many homicides have gone unsolved. She faulted District Attorney Frank J. Clark for not being more aggressive, saying he picks only the cases he feels his prosecutors can win and throws "to the side" the cases he feels they can't win.

But a representative from the district attorney's office told the audience that authorities try to pursue justice in every case.

Of the city's 56 homicides in 2005, city police cleared 27 by year's end. That's an improvement from 2004, when 20 of 51 homicides were solved.

"My grandson's case is a cold case now," Davis said. "Something must be done."

David M. Collins, former Masten Council member, said more witnesses might be willing to come forward with information if they felt some sense of protection and security from the police and prosecutors.

As it is now, many won't, said Collins, vice president of Parents Encouraging Accountability and Closure for Everyone, a group comprising those who have lost a loved one to a violent death.

Collins also asked for police officers who respond to homicide scenes to show more understanding toward the victim's family, who may come to the scene of the crime.

Said Collins: "Be sensitive. You've got your kid on the ground bleeding to death. It's not so much what you do, but how you do it."

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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