Erie County officials are betting on bolder signage — and bigger rewards — to help curb violent crime in the Buffalo area.
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and District Attorney John J. Flynn Thursday teamed up with law enforcement and health officials to announce a new initiative at Erie County Medical Center.
The aim is to reduce fatal and non-fatal shootings by boosting the amount of reward money offered by Crime Stoppers, a local nonprofit, for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of crimes that involve a firearm.
The $80,000 county investment will be used over a three-year period to enhance the Crime Stoppers reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution in a fatal homicide, from $2,500 to $7,500, Poloncarz said.
"The county has not been involved like this in the past with regard to financial assistance to help solve these crimes," Poloncarz said.
"We want people to understand that a shooting incident, while not necessarily at the same level as a homicide, still is important and we want people to report those and you can then be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000. And $1,000 is available for information leading to a weapons seizure, arrest and prosecution. So this is not just for a homicide, because we want guns off the street," he added.
The initiative will feature the placement of 20 new Stop the Violence billboards, beginning Monday, at locations across the county.
Each location was chosen based on historical shooting data provided by the Erie County Crime Analysis Center. In the City of Buffalo, there were 57 homicides, 45 of which were committed with a firearm, in 2018.
"This is going to be a huge benefit and a huge help for us here in Erie County," said Flynn, whose office provided $10,000 in funding that will be matched by Crime Stoppers for the billboard campaign.
Flynn said the Crime Stoppers billboard has already yielded results, with the arrest last Friday of 34-year-old Robert Scott, of Buffalo, on drug possession charges.
Authorities said that, at time of his arrest, Scott had in his possession more than 300 grams of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin.
"It only takes two milligrams for it to be a fatal dose," Flynn said of the drug.
"If you do the math, that's taking, potentially, 150,000 people whose lives are in danger off the books," he continued.
Flynn described Scott's arrest and arraignment on a Class A felony as a huge bust now being prosecuted by his office.
"That case came in through an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip. So, ladies and gentlemen, this works," Flynn said.
"The apps work, the billboards work. The message is getting out. Hopefully, we can not only solve crimes but we can save lives, and that's the bottom line here," he added.
When it comes to gun violence, Dr. Samuel Cloud, an ECMC emergency room doctor, said he is hopeful the county's new initiative with Crime Stoppers will help reduce the number of gunshot patients he sees.
"When I think about gunfire, I don't think about the sound of gunfire. I think about the primal screams of the mothers when they find out, despite our best efforts, we were unable to save their loved one. That sound goes like a cold wind through the whole ER. It causes people to stop in their tracks, and it seems to last longer than it actually does," Dr. Cloud said.
"That sounds represents all of the despair, the years, the hopes, the dreams all cut short by a gunshot. I have had enough of those experiences to last five lifetimes. So I am very happy to have ECMC and myself to be involved to do our part with all of our local law enforcement partners and community partners to try to reduce gunfire in our communities," Dr. Cloud added.