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Police seek community's help in making dent in wave of larcenies

Larcenies, especially car break-ins, have grown to an alarming rate in the city during the last month.

Now, both police and block clubs are asking residents to help police put a dent in such crimes by watching their neighborhoods and reporting anything out of the ordinary.

"Larcenies from motor vehicles are up nearly 40 percent from this time last year, which is not a good thing," Police Superintendent John R. Chella said last week. "And now we've got [these larcenies] morning, noon and night.

"In some cases, [victims] were gone only 15 minutes from their cars. It's not a 3 o'clock-in-the-morning call anymore, either," said Chella, calling statistics in the first four months of this year "disappointing."

He said that rather than feeling helpless, people should help police. And though larcenies are up, he said, arrests are also up, 63 percent in the past year.

"Call, call, call," Chella said. "It dramatically increases our chances of making an arrest."

Monday, a woman in the 2200 block of Willow Avenue saw a stranger coming out of her house and chased him into the backyard, yelling, "I'm calling the police." The suspect ran away and then fell as he tried to jump over her fence.

A neighbor identified the suspect as Linnon Smith, 51, of 17th Street and saw the direction he ran; both the victim and the neighbor identified him when he was caught by police.

Smith was charged with second-degree burglary and fourth-degree grand larceny, both felonies.

Niagara Falls Block Club Treasurer-Secretary Norma Higgs said the good guys outnumber the bad guys in Niagara Falls.

"I figure we are a city of 50,000, and most of the cops agree there's about 1,000 of these bad guys. That's 50 to 1. If all the residents paid attention, we should be able to beat this," Higgs said.

People shouldn't chase down criminals or go up against them, she said, but they can be vigilant. When they see something, they should call police, she said, even if it's an anonymous call. Residents can call 286-4711 with complaints or 286-4591 with narcotics tips.

"It's just paying attention," Higgs said. "If you see something, say something. Neighborhoods need to do this. We have to be the eyes and ears. They should all be looking out their windows."

"We are making as many arrests as we can," Chella said. "We've had some phenomenal success with calls from people who see something, and we are able to get there quickly and either catch them in the act or shortly after."

Chella called larceny a crime of opportunity.

"It is a crime that is used to fuel drug addictions," he said. "It is feeding a daily craving."

Chella said increases in copper thefts from vacant buildings are another crime that's driven by drugs. Police, he said, are monitoring for anyone who might be a go-between for stolen property.

Global positioning systems and stereo systems are still the most commonly stolen items, according to March statistics, but purses and wallets are way up -- they're now tied with GPS devices as most commonly stolen.

"There's no reason this should happen," Chella said, noting that things of value should be removed from cars. "When you are out of the car, you should take your laptop with you."

Chella said break-in statistics help police know when to be on heightened alert and where to concentrate patrols.

"We are out there. I want to assure the public. We are out there in plainclothes and unmarked vehicles," he said.

In a related matter, Chella said they are working with the Niagara County district attorney to crack down on people involved in auto stripping.

"[District Attorney Michael Violante] and I have talked about this extensively. He knows our problem. He is going to throw the book at them, and we are laying as many charges as we can. Mike is going to prosecute to the fullest," Chella said.

"Officers are doing their jobs, making arrests," Chella said. "We have to do a better job on educating the public not to become the victim of a crime."