Buffalo streets were ravaged by a 23 percent increase in shootings last year, but Mayor Byron W. Brown says the judicial system often lets gunmen back onto the streets after police have arrested them.
He said Buffalo police confiscated 840 guns last year and arrested about 600 people on gun charges. Of the individuals arrested, about a third had a prior gun arrest, the mayor said. Forty-one people were arrested on weapons charges multiple times just last year, he said.
"The frustration that our police department feels is that, to a degree, there is a revolving door," Brown said.
He said these individuals keep getting out of jail and are allowed to return to the city's streets.
"There's certainly a breakdown in the system that doesn't occur at the Buffalo Police level," he said. He declined to elaborate further on what he believes needs to be done.
There were 566 shootings in Buffalo last year, a 23 percent surge compared to the five-year average from 2011 through 2015, according to a Buffalo News analysis of Buffalo Police data. For this analysis, a shooting was defined as an incident in which a person fires a gun and a person, building or vehicle is hit, or there is otherwise evidence of gunfire. Suicides are not included in the data.
The analysis of the police data, published in Sunday's Buffalo News, found the risk of shootings is not equal for every neighborhood in the city. That's especially true on the East Side, which is home to about a third of the city's population but is where three quarters of all shootings in the last six years have happened.
A nine-block area surrounding Genesee Street near Doat Street had the most shootings over the last six years of 287 neighborhoods known as census "block groups," a News analysis found.
Brown said officials in his police department believe the gun violence in Buffalo is not being perpetrated by a large group of individuals, and he believes those committing the crimes are not representative of the community as a whole.
"It is a small percentage of people involved in a large percentage of the crimes," he said.
And most shootings are not random in nature. The shooters and the targets are often known to each other, Brown said. One of the critical ingredients to solving shootings is the willingness of witnesses and others to share information with police. Often, that doesn't happen.
Brown, who took office in January 2006 and is seeking re-election this fall, defended his administration's record in battling gun violence. His pointed to these achievements and initiatives:
- Police seized more than 15,000 guns, including more than 350 so far this year.
- Police have partnered on long-term gang investigations and other issues with local, state and federal law enforcement partners.
- Funding for Buffalo Peacemakers, an umbrella organization for six anti-violence groups who work with at-risk youth and young adults.
- Re-establishing a community police officer program.
- Promoting economic development projects that have community-benefit agreements aimed at increasing job opportunities for city residents, including those on the East Side.
- Creating a police scholarship recruitment program, known as BPD 21C, aimed at increasing diversity within the police department.
- Including a residency requirement in the latest contract with the police union requiring all new officers to live in the city for seven years.
- Re-establishing the police department's Cold Case Squad.
Brown, who has visited shooting victims in hospitals and with families of homicide victims in their homes, also sees the cyclical nature of the violence.
"It is a painful thing," he said, "and we need people in the community who are in this cycle to understand that the cycle causes pain for not only themselves but for their families."