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With 15 homicides, Buffalo off to deadliest start in a decade

This year started off with three homicides on Jan 1.

The shootings and killings have not abated more than two months later. Three people were slain in the first week of March.

In total, there have been 15 homicides so far in 2017, the deadliest start of a new year in at least a decade. But police say the spike does not necessarily mean 2017 will end as one of the deadliest years.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda cited gang violence, often propelled by drug disputes, and other arguments between rival gangs as the primary causes of the violence. Several killings are believed to be the result of a single dispute.

"Homicides run in cycles with spikes due to circumstances and different feuds on the streets," Derenda said. "The vast majority of these killings are not random acts but targeted."

This month has seen a heavy toll in just the first full week.

Four hours after March arrived last Wednesday, a 39-year-old man was fatally shot on Pershing Avenue near Best Street.

At 3 a.m. Saturday, a 24-year-old man was fatally shot at Mills and Peterson streets.

At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, a shooting at Broadway and Lathrop Street took the life of a 32-year-old man.

On Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours later in broad daylight, three men were shot in a drive-by shooting on Genesee Street at Eller Avenue. One was on the verge of bleeding to death when two Ferry-Fillmore District officers loaded him into their patrol vehicle and raced to the hospital.

Scene of the shooting on Genesee Street and Eller Avenue on March 6, 2017. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

And then Monday's violence continued. At about 11:30 p.m., two men were shot at Best Street and Michigan Avenue, one of them suffering serious back wounds.

State and federal help

The recent violence has resulted in more help from State Police, with additional troopers last week assigned to work with the city's Strike Force officers, who target high-crime areas.

"Something has to be done, and I want us to do our part in reducing violent crimes in the City of Buffalo," said State Police Major Steven Nigrelli, who oversees the Western New York area.

In addition, FBI agents assigned to the Safe Streets Task Force also are assisting city police.

Nigrelli did not disclose how many more troopers have been added "for operational and security reasons."

But he said troopers and police provide a "high-profile patrol presence in crime hot spots," concentrating on getting illegal guns off the streets and developing a crime-reduction strategy.

Even more troopers will be brought in to work with Strike Force this summer "or if crime trends require it," Nigrelli said.

First week of March

Last year, 288 people were shot in Buffalo, according to the Buffalo Police Department. Thirty-four died from gunshots. All of this year's homicide victims have been shot.

"The amount of shootings in Buffalo in 2016 was staggering," Nigrelli said.

Map: Homicides in Buffalo in 2017

While 2017 is off to a deadly start – three of the slayings occurred Jan. 1 – Derenda pointed to a three-month spike from last year as an indication that homicides are not only unpredictable but can taper off just as quickly as they start.

"From July through September, there were a total of 20 homicides, then in the following three months, there were a total of five homicides," the commissioner said.

Last year ended with a total of 44 homicides, representing a figure below the average annual number of 53 slayings during the previous 10 years.

Weather could be a factor

The current uptick in violence may also have something to do with the lack of bitterly cold winter weather, drawing more people outdoors, according to police. On nine of the days people were slain, temperatures were above freezing, sometimes reaching into the 40s and 50s and in one instance hitting a high of 60 degrees on the first day of March.

Warmer weather, police say, results in more people going outside and increases the chances of violent encounters among gang rivals.

"Weather seems to be a factor, but it certainly isn't the only factor," Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richard said.

To be sure, it will take more than freezing weather to curb the violence.

Difficult gang cases

"Many of these gang cases are difficult to solve and can only be done through long-term investigations with our state and federal partners," Derenda said, citing past federal indictments that dismantled the 10th Street and Seventh Street gangs on the lower West Side.

The key often involves getting gang members who are initially arrested to cooperate with investigators in exchange for possible leniency when they are sentenced.

"We're able to clear numerous shootings and homicides when gang members cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's Office," the commissioner said.

City homicide detectives have cleared one slaying from this year and three from past years so far in 2017.

But there are "several other cases that are close to being cleared from this year and from previous years," Derenda said.

As for Monday's shootings, all five victims are expected to live, including Keith Cooley, the 24-year-old whose femoral artery was struck by a bullet on Genesee Street. He was listed in good condition at Erie County Medical Center.

Ferry-Fillmore District Officers Karl B. Schultz and Kyle T. Moriarity were credited by police officials with acting quickly and placing Cooley in their vehicle and transporting him to ECMC.

"Their quick and decisive action saved the victim's life," Derenda said.

Buffalo police have also announced they made an arrest in the double shooting near City Honors.

News Staff Reporter Maki Becker contributed to this report.

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