A 17-month-old boy and his 54-year-old grandmother were gunned down on the front porch of her Grape Street house in early July. One month later, also on Buffalo’s East Side, a 31-year-old mother of five was shot to death in broad daylight in a car containing three of her young children.
The summer’s rising heat index has coincided with outbreaks of gun violence that put residents on edge in some of the city’s grittier neighborhoods. While those who live in certain ZIP codes often feel overlooked or written off, thankfully that is not the case here. Mayor Byron W. Brown and Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood are saying and doing the right things to reassure citizens the city is doing all it can to calm our troubled neighborhoods.
One of the first goals of the Buffalo police is to get guns off the street, and they are making progress. According to Capt. Jeff Rinaldo, Lockwood’s chief of staff, through July 27 the city had seized 296 “crime guns,” weapons used in the commission of crimes. In July alone the figure increased by 14 percent from the previous month, he said.
Rinaldo credits the “proactive details in all of our districts.” They embrace several strategies, including community policing, a smart and important approach touted by Lockwood. The idea is for officers to get to know residents before the sirens are sounding or tensions are running high. That helps to build trust.
A recent article in The News highlighted a weekly soccer game on the East Side involving kids, police officers and members of the Peacemakers, an anti-violence coalition.
The feel-good scenes of officers from the department’s Neighborhood Engagement Team playing soccer or basketball with neighborhood kids do more than bring smiles to our faces. These activities help build bridges, showing inner-city citizens the human side of police officers and giving officers an up-close view the people they serve.
Being more plugged in to their communities also helps police when it comes to bringing criminals to justice. The eyes and ears of people in the neighborhood are invaluable; when they feel they can trust the police, they are more likely to share what they know. That has long been a problem, especially in minority neighborhoods.
“We are getting more tips, people are feeling more comfortable with law enforcement and that has been helpful with more of the information that has come in,” Brown told The News.
Effective community policing doesn’t snap into place overnight. There is a cultural shift that must occur throughout the department, and it requires training and a commitment of time and resources that flows from the top down. The department is on the right path and needs to keep the accelerator pushed to the floor.
The mayor convened a meeting recently with the Erie County district attorney and several leaders of federal law enforcement agencies to share information and coordinate their responses to the homicides on the East Side.
Brown said authorities are getting closer to making arrests in some of the high-profile cases involving gangs. That, too, can help to build trust.
“We know that with additional resources and additional support we can bring these cases to conclusion and find and arrest the individuals that are responsible and put them away for a long period of time,” Brown said.
The mayor stresses that the summer’s bloodshed has been restricted to a narrow slice of the city, and involved drug activity and gangs fighting over turf. Buffalo is not Baltimore or Chicago, cities where the scars of gun violence cut much deeper. City officials here are smart to send a message that an engaged and alert police force will not allow gangs to install a climate of fear in our city. Community policing and the trust it engenders can only help with that task.