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Rewards to help solve crimes win support

The head of the Buffalo Fire Marshal's office and the city comptroller have endorsed establishing a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for such crimes as the arson at a property owned by an East Side activist.

Common Council President David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District, says he believes his idea is gaining momentum.

Franczyk, among others, have speculated that the Sept. 5 fire at a vacant home at 28 Barthel St. was retribution by drug dealers lashing out at Darnell Jackson, the owner, who has been active in anti-gang efforts.

Random crimes cause enough harm in communities, Franczyk said, but a "fire bombing" that was intended to silence activists merits the creation of a reward for information that leads police to the perpetrators.

"This was an attempt to stop an organized neighborhood from defending itself," Franczyk said Monday. "It rises to a level of deep intimidation."

Lt. Sal Colangelo, who runs the Fire Marshal's office, told the Council he is in "complete support" of the proposal.

"Establishing a dedicated arson reward fund would greatly assist the fire marshals in obtaining information," he said, noting that rewards financed through private donations have spurred witnesses to step forward in some earlier cases.

Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo, looking more broadly, said he also supports establishing a reward fund in criminal cases where police "investigatory tools have reached their limits." But SanFilippo said officials must be judicious when deciding how such rewards can be best used.

"We can't write a blank check and provide rewards for information on every crime," SanFilippo said.

Franczyk acknowledged that as a valid point.

But in unique situations, Franczyk said, providing city-funded rewards for tips that help police nab criminals could help crack cases.

Establishing such a fund would require an adequate source of money as well as a process for verifying the validity of payments, SanFilippo added. He cited a model used by the city to reward people who give information that leads to convictions for illegal dumping. These cash payments are administered through the city Law Department's claims process.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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