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'Minimum force' bill would handcuff police

We have recently learned about a bill that is under consideration in the New York State Assembly. This bill, proposed by several members of the Assembly, requires a comment and some discussion due to the potential impact on the safety of both the police and our fellow citizens.

This law change has been dubbed the "minimum force" bill and requires some pretty significant changes on how a police officer may use physical force to make an arrest or defend themselves and the citizens we serve.

As you well know, the ability for a police officer to use force to make an arrest or stop someone from committing certain crimes is governed by Article 35 (Use of Force) of the New York State Penal Law. Under the present law, a police officer can use "that force which is reasonable and necessary" to make an arrest. Depending on the actions of the suspect, the amount of physical force can escalate to the point where an officer may use deadly physical force to arrest someone or stop them from committing certain crimes.

Our ability to use force is also governed by a large number of court cases. Overall, the existing laws and court cases are effective in guiding the police and protecting the public from any unwarranted use of force by the police.

The proposed law changes Article 35 to state that the police can use "only the minimal amount of force necessary" to make an arrest or stop someone from committing a crime.

What makes this proposed law difficult and dangerous is that the "minimal force" provision has also been extended to severely limit when an officer can use deadly physical force. During a deadly encounter, the new law allows us to only "stop" the bad guy by wounding them in some way. In fact, under this proposed law, during a deadly encounter, if a police officer causes the death of the bad guy while trying to arrest him, the officer may be subject to arrest for manslaughter.

How does this affect the police? Let's use a couple of local incidents to highlight the danger in this proposed new law. In 2003, the Lockport Police were attempting to arrest a man for attempted murder. He shot two police officers with an AK-47 rifle. During this deadly encounter, which occurred in the dark, during a snowstorm, at a distance of over 30 yards, the suspect fired almost 90 rounds at police. In a more recent incident that occurred in Niagara Falls, a suspect, armed with several firearms, shot his estranged girlfriend. When police arrived, they were ambushed by the suspect and two officers were shot. The resulting gunfight again occurred in the dark, at a significant distance, with the officers trying to rescue their fallen comrades while being shot at by the suspect.

Under this proposed new law, police would only have been able to use "minimal force" when shooting back. This means that during a shootout where the bullets were flying, in the dark, at great distances, with the suspect actively shooting at police, and during a time of great confusion, we would be required to shoot the suspect in the arm or leg to "stop" him.

If, during any of these incidents, an officer inadvertently shot the suspect and the suspect died, the officer would be subject to arrest for manslaughter if it was determined that the officer didn't try hard enough just to wound the suspect.

A further consequence of the proposed new law is that the fear of possible arrest may cause a police officer to hesitate. This hesitation, while the officer contemplates his chances of being arrested, could easily cost the life of an officer or the citizens we are sworn to protect. There is no room for hesitation in a life or death situation where survival is measured in mere seconds.

We would think that we all agree that police officers are not trained killers driving around every day trying to figure out a way to shoot someone, because that obviously is not the case. We are not trained to "shoot to kill." As leaders of our respective departments, we train our people that when they are put in a situation where deadly force becomes necessary, they shoot until the bad guy is no longer a threat to the officer or an innocent civilian. In fact, we train our officers to use deadly force as the absolute last possible option in any situation. We are also responsible for the safety of the officers themselves and to ensure that our people go home to their families at the end of the day. It appears to us that this proposed law change is supported by a few people, both locally and in Albany, who are driven by ideology and who have never been closer to a gunfight or deadly encounter than an action movie on television. Their motivation for supporting this new law appears to be based on bias toward the police, preconceived notions, and unrealistic ideas.

Hopefully our local and state representatives will fully examine the ramifications of this proposed law and be sure it will never see the light of day.

Sheriff James Voutour

Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert

Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John Chella

North Tonawanda Police Chief Ranzy Szukala

Barker Police Chief Ross Annabel

Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada

Middleport Police Chief John Swick

Town of Niagara Police Chief James Suitor


Letter carriers say thanks for support

Again, you have all helped make the recent Letter Carriers Food Drive a success.

Even though the weather did not cooperate, the letter carriers, volunteer drivers and organization volunteers were warmed by your generosity while the wind, rain and the branches fell.

The food collected will help all of the groups be able to serve those who need our help, whether it is a hot meal or a bag of groceries. Once again thank you for supporting your community.

Lynn and Chuck Siegfield

Niagara Falls


Vision needed placing culinary institute

A lot of talk has surrounded this idea for a culinary institute in Niagara Falls. As a Niagara County legislator who represents the LaSalle area of the City of Niagara Falls, I know I get the question, "What's going on with the culinary institute?" quite frequently.

Recently, I have submitted a proposal to the Niagara County Community College board of trustees exploring the option of the Wendt's Dairy building on Buffalo Avenue for consideration. This site has more than enough space, ample parking, and is well suited for the conversion from a factory to a culinary institute. More importantly, this site has everything you could ask for. The accessibility, whether it be the straight drive to the downtown area, the Factory Outlet mall, the Niagara Falls International Airport, or to the towns of Wheatfield and Niagara, the LaSalle site has it all, which increases the target market.

For far too long, LaSalle has been ignored despite being a vital part of the City. As the largest tax base, home to a tremendous amount of successful small businesses, and accounting for over 30 hotels and motels and 1,200 rooms, LaSalle generates a large share of the economic revenue in Niagara Falls. The businesses on Buffalo Avenue survive through the good, bad, and terrible times, with little or no help from local government.

A culinary institute in LaSalle, and more specifically at Wendt's Dairy, would actually act as an economic anchor. This location would serve to connect both ends of the city and provide a financial infusion for all business districts throughout the city. As a stand-alone structure on Buffalo Avenue, it would be the main focus and a welcomed addition in LaSalle. On Buffalo Avenue, this site would be the featured attraction and would become a catalyst for business rather than yet another attempt to compete with the casino and Canada.

With 11,000 residents in a one-mile radius that would be amenable to serving as a customer base, LaSalle is primed to be an economic hub for the city, if given the chance. Instead, the tunnel vision that blinds all economic development efforts by city government to only recognizing a three-mile radius as the heart of Niagara Falls continues to hold our great city back.

At some point we have to begin addressing an issue that has plagued our community for decades -- the dwindling middle class. If we are to ever reverse the exodus of our population, we need to begin involving all areas of the city in economic development planning.

Ultimately, placing the culinary arts institute requires vision and a commitment to the betterment of our entire community. The Wendt's Dairy location presents an enhanced opportunity to do just that. It is economical, flexible, and offers a supporting community.

Please join me in supporting this idea, for the betterment of all of Niagara Falls, and demanding our elected officials to begin exploring LaSalle.

Vincent Sandonato

Niagara Falls

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