NIAGARA FALLS – Five new police officers were sworn in to the Niagara Falls Police Department last week and four more were promoted, part of a wave of new officers and new ideas that is getting national recognition for decreasing crime and increasing community involvement.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of retirements, but it’s created an energized police department,” said Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster told the City Council that at a recent U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., the department was one of five in the country singled out as being “on the right track.”
Dyster said the department’s data-based evidence gathering is the envy of other cities and its community policing is a model for others that have recently seen relations break down between the police department and the community.
“We’ve been working very hard on community policing over the years,” Dyster said. “We have a reputation as a leader.”
The efforts have paid off. Unlike a number of big cities, where the rates of violent crimes have been going up, Niagara Falls has seen rates decreasing over the past three years.
DalPorto, called the decrease in crime “dramatic.”
Part 1 crimes – which include crimes such as homicide, robbery, rape, assault, burglary, larcenies and stolen vehicles – were down 6 percent in both 2013 and 2014. In 2015 they were down 14 percent.
And unlike other upstate cities which have seen double-digit increases in shooting-related violence, Niagara Falls had a decrease of 12 percent as reported by the Gun Involved Violence Elimination report. In Niagara Falls there were two people killed by firearms in 2014 and one in 2015.
Shooting incidents involving guns decreased in 2014 to 2015 from 25 to 13 reports, a drop of 48 percent.
DalPorto said the department has made efforts to increase patrols in shopping and tourist areas.
“We were up in (reports of) shoplifting, a Part 2 crime, but the reason we are up is because we assigned a detective to investigate shoplifting because it was becoming a major problem for our retailers,” he said.
DalPorto was asked why there still is a perception that Niagara Falls feels unsafe to people.
“One of the biggest things we fight is social media,” he said. “People put things on social media. It’s not that it didn’t happen or they are embellishing, but it is just more known than before.”
DalPorto said like the rest of the nation, heroin and the abuse of prescription pills are a huge problem in Niagara Falls. He said it is the “No. 1 threat we face today.”
“Heroin affects everybody in all walks of life. It doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “But it’s not solely a police issue and we can’t arrest our way out of it. We have to come up with a way to fix it.”
DalPorto said in the past three years the structure of the police department has been changed to focus on troubled areas and increase the presence of patrol cars.
“It’s just good hard work by our officers out on the street,” the chief said of decreasing crime rates.
He said they also work with other agencies and the district attorney’s office and have made the community their partner in the fight against crime. He said by improving community relations, officers have gotten much better cooperation with the public than in the past.
In addition they are on the forefront of evidence-based policing with the Niagara County Crime Analysis Center, which recently opened in Niagara Falls.
He said this allows the department to get real-time analysis and intelligence as a crime occurs, which then can be immediately shared with detectives and officers out on the street.
“We can see if there are known associates, patterns, other crimes, a suspect vehicle – that real-time analysis is huge,” DalPorto said. “It’s the wave of the future and we really are on the cutting edge of that.”
On Tuesday the department welcomed a diverse group of new officers and promoted several others to the 157-member force. DalPorto said some members of the department are third-generation officers.
New Lt. Vincent Granto was among four promoted on Tuesday.
Granto said his father, Frank, retired as a captain, his brother Nick works with him on the city force as an officer, another brother, also named Frank, works for corrections in Niagara County and another brother, Joe, works for U.S. Customs.
Granto, a former narcotics detective with almost 12 years of experience, said he joined the police department “in admiration of his father.” He said becoming a lieutenant was one of his proudest moments on the force.
Others promoted were Roger Freeman and David Kok, who were both named captains, and Timothy Ferchen, also promoted to lieutenant.
Among the five new officers was Ashley Newbury, 29, who took the oath with her brother, Niagara Falls Police Lt. Jason Sykes, and her 3-year-old son, Ashton by her side.
“I want to help the people of this city,” said Newbury.
New Officer Rashad Travis, 25, who grew up in Niagara Falls, said, “I love the opportunity to get to help people. It is one of my passions. I feel like I can bridge the gap. My community already has bad perceptions of police officers and I feel like, being a man of color, I can actually bridge that gap between them.”
The other new officers are: Patrick Ciccarelli, Samuel Cale and Michael Maio.