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Experience helps liaison relate to community

Raymond Allen has seen good times and bad in Niagara Falls, from the days when factory jobs were plentiful to the more challenging current economic times.

That perspective should serve him well in his new job.

Allen is the new part-time community liaison for the city's 19th Street Police Substation and Community Center. While he tries to finish his master's degree and tends to his flock at a local church, Allen also is trying to sow the seeds of faith and calm among people who are struggling.

"If people have quality-of-life issues, like with gang activity, drug activity, or some other type of illegal activity that disturbs them, then they can come in and make a complaint. They don't want to have to sell their house," Allen said. "This is all confidential, and [complaints] can be passed on to an officer who patrols those areas."

The substation/community centers operate under auspices of the Niagara Falls Police Department. The staff is coordinated by Community Police Liaison Director Allen P. Booker, who oversees quality-of-life programming for the Police Department's Office of Community Relations.

"Police officers are in all of the substations, but a more important part is [providing] liaisons on-site [who offer] programming; having someone here so [residents] have someone to talk to," Booker said.

Allen can relate to others who are struggling. He came to Niagara Falls from Georgia and graduated from Niagara Falls High School in 1978. He said that after a year he decided to put off finishing college.

"The [factories] were doing well then. For an 18-year-old guy there was money. I figured I'd get to [college] later," Allen said. But he lost his job as the factories started closing down.

"You had to rethink and say, 'I have to do something different now.' Seventeen years later I returned to school and finally got my bachelor's degree, and now I am working on my master's."

Allen has a bachelor's degree in business management from Houghton College and is attending Colgate Divinity School in Rochester.

He also has been the pastor at Bethany Baptist Church for the past six years.

Booker said that Allen is a good choice for the liaison role.

"[Allen] has a very good temperment, a calmness. Someone like him, at this particular substation, people will be able to relate to him and trust him. He has that aura about himself that people will be able to tell him things and feel that it is safe," Booker said. "Or if he can't [help], he will be able to take it to the next level."

In addition to being at the center, Allen goes to block club meetings and listens to complaints, the majority of which address quality of life.

Allen said residents can also make complaints if they are having a problem with an officer.

"We want to give the residents a sense of empowerment," Booker said. "We want to encourage residents to take a role in their city. [We need them to know] their assistance matters."

Allen said he wants to help change the "me against them" attitude that is so prevalent in the community and try to create an open dialogue in the community to address issues.

"I think we can solve this and take it to the next level," Booker said.

Allen said there had been complaints that his office was always closed, but when he started in March, the center began to offer regular and consistent hours.

He said the 19th Street police substation is not open 24 hours a day.

"You don't pay an officer to sit at a desk. They are out patrolling the streets. They are hired to fight crime. A substation is a police presence, something small where people can talk about quality-of-life issues," Allen said.

"The whole purpose to all of this is to stop people from committing crimes and refer them to resources," Booker said. "If they don't have those resources, they may think in other terms that may not be healthy."

Being a part of the community can be as simple as opening a door, Booker said.

"When [Allen] got here it was the smallest thing that made the biggest impact. The door was open. It was wide open on a beautiful day in March, and it really caught me off guard. But he had opened the door and it told people, 'C'mon in,' " Booker said.