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Crackdown begins on walking in streets; Falls officers to urge use of city's sidewalks

Starting today, those who choose to walk in city streets rather than on sidewalks will have more to worry about than the motoring public.

They'll also have to worry about the police.

City officers will start to crack down on people who are choosing to walk in the street "for no good reason," Niagara Falls police Capt. John DeMarco said.

"Our objective is not to arrest people over this," DeMarco said, "but to get people to walk on the sidewalks, to prevent injuries to themselves or create dangers for others."

Young people in the city are especially troublesome, he said.

"For some young people, this is a form of defiance. It's being cool walking in the street. It's that element of danger," DeMarco said, noting police have received a lot of complaints around the city's two middle schools: Gaskill and LaSalle.

There have been a few pedestrian-auto accidents recently, but no one person or incident sparked the crackdown.

"It's a quality-of-life issue," DeMarco said. "If people feel they can walk in the street, which is against the law, then they feel they can do other things."

City block club members said that the groups of young people who gather and walk in the streets can be especially troubling to senior citizens.

Seniors and some others are afraid to beep their horns at these teens for fear that they may get shot, Police Superintendent John Chella said.

"A majority of drivers avoid [confrontation] by swerving into oncoming traffic, which could create an accident," Chella said.

"These kids can sometimes be verbally abusive," said Norma Higgs, Niagara Falls Block Club treasurer. "Sometimes they will walk abreast and make it so people can't get by on purpose. The sidewalks are very walkable in these areas [where there are problems]. There's no reason for kids to be in the streets."

Niagara Falls Block Club President Roger Spurback said police already have been breaking up these groups and moving them to the sidewalks, where they don't walk in a large crowd.

"We will begin this week with friendly reminders and warnings," said DeMarco. "We will remind them that it is not only illegal, but it's not safe."

If problems persist, he said, police will start charging people who are walking in the street with disorderly conduct, because they are obstructing vehicular traffic.

"[Charges] can vary from issuing an appearance ticket to being brought in and placed in a cell," DeMarco said. "A lot of how things are going to come out will depend on a citizen's response to the officers."

"The streets are for autos, and the sidewalks are for walking," Spurback said. "At the same time, it shows they have respect for a neighborhood. I salute our Police Department. They are responding to every complaint. If one kid gets run over there will questions. By acting on the small things it improves the quality of life in Niagara Falls."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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