NIAGARA FALLS – The city’s new Downtown Rangers – easily identifiable by their royal blue shirts and hats labeled RANGER – will put extra eyes and ears on the street to help the Niagara Falls Police Department when they start in July.
Their mission will be to act as goodwill ambassadors for the city – welcoming visitors in the heart of the South End tourist district, helping with questions and making visitors feel safe.
The Rangers program is offered by the city Police Department and is supervised by retired Police Capt. Frank Tedesco. But the Downtown Rangers are not police officers, and they will not carry weapons or make arrests.
“The Rangers don’t substitute for uniformed police officers, but we think they will play a role in not just making downtown friendlier, but we think they will enhance the safety of both visitors and residents during the busy tourist season,” said Mayor Paul Dyster.
Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said the perception of the city as an unsafe place is not a fair one but added, “This will absolutely change the perception in a positive way, if we assure people that downtown Niagara Falls is a safe place to come visit and enjoy.”
Dyster said the Rangers will aid police in some cases by alerting them to problems or tell the Department of Public Works about issues such as trash in the street. Mainly, however, they will be there to help the large numbers of visitors, many from foreign countries, to find their way around and find services.
Dyster said Rangers also will help residents who can be overwhelmed when thousands of people descend on the city.
“There’s just so many people walking around looking for some sort of assistance that there aren’t enough people with the know-how available,” the mayor said. “So to have a cadre of people identified by their brightly colored uniforms is going to be very helpful for the businesses downtown, and it’s going to take the burden off the employees of downtown businesses. They are trying to be as helpful and friendly as they can, but they have jobs they have to do and places they have to go. They are not tour guides.”
The Rangers substation will be located in the heart of downtown at 302 Third St., in a storefront adjacent to the Sheraton at the Falls, which had been a U.S. Post Office substation. The location will allow tourists to stop in with questions or contact the police. Patrols assigned to the South End also will be able to use the site.
The program is funded by a grant from the Niagara Falls Community Development Fund, which allotted $150,000 to pay for startup costs, Rangers’ salaries, uniforms and a supervisor.
Officer Nicholas Ligamarri, who oversees the program, said a lot of big cities offer similar programs, sometimes calling them ambassadors or by other titles.
DalPorto said the Niagara Falls program is modeled after successful programs in other tourist cities.
A training program through the Visitors Bureau will help familiarize the rangers with the downtown area, such as hotels and restaurants, and a training program through the Police Department will familiarize them with what they can and can’t do, Ligamarri said.
“It’s just an extra person around to help. If they see something, they will have a radio to call a car to come in,” Ligamarri said.
Dyster said that the city has gotten a large amount of feedback from having patrol officers out on bicycles and walking the streets and that the Rangers will have a similar effect by adding more people to the mix. He calls the Rangers “good guys and girls that are out there to help you.”
Ligamarri said the Rangers will work from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and will extend until 10 p.m. on weekends.
“They will also be available for special events, such as concerts and festivals downtown,” he said.
“Any type of safety and security presence we can manage,” DalPorto said
“They definitely will be visible,” Ligamarri said.
The Rangers program is expected to continue through the end of August but could extend into September, based on the availability of funding and employees.