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The Editorial Board: Welcome decline in Buffalo shootings calls for even greater efforts to quell violence

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Poloncarz announces gun violence report (copy)

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stands with Rep. Brian Higgins and others to announces drop in gun violence for the first quarter of this year.

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Though it isn’t cause – not even close – for celebration, the news that Buffalo’s gun violence statistics have dropped dramatically over the first quarter of 2022 is encouraging. Maybe a cautious nod of approval would be in order.

This is better news than we had at the same time a year ago, when the number of gun injuries and fatalities was higher than it had been in a decade, with more than twice as many occurrences as in the early months of 2019 and 2020.

Buffalo is also doing better than other New York State cities; compared to Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Niagara Falls, Buffalo is the only municipality to show a decline in shooting incidents, injuries and deaths. That’s including the May 14 massacre at the Jefferson Avenue Tops.

It wouldn’t be tempting fate to ask why this decrease has happened; the answers to that question may hold lessons for the future.

According to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, major reasons for the improvement are grassroots-level anti-violence efforts like the Stop the Violence Coalition and the Erie County Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, in which community organizations have hit the streets, connecting at-risk individuals with assistance, including jobs. These efforts are buttressed by last year’s $531,000 investment in additional temporary employment opportunities and increased number of home visits to probationers, both initiatives part of the county’s 2021 gun violence prevention program.

The fact that home visits and personal contacts in other settings are once again possible may also have something to do with the positive trend. In March, 2021, then-Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph A. Gramaglia noted, “Covid has restricted and really cut off a significant amount of our community outreach work.” A few months later, in July 2021, county Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said that even during the pandemic, gun violence killed more children than Covid-19. It’s widely recognized that gun violence surged throughout the country during the months of Covid-related isolation.

Speaking of now-Police Commissioner Gramaglia, who was not at the news conference announcing the decrease, we trust his absence was merely an oversight. He needs to be closely involved with the task force. It will take all hands on deck to keep this trend on its downward path.

Will the recent decrease be more than a temporary blip as we return to semi-normality? Time will tell, but there’s no question that collaborative efforts involving law enforcement and ground-level community outreach should be ongoing regardless of what the numbers say. There can be no permanent improvement if significant action depends on whether we’re in crisis mode.

It was almost a year ago that Poloncarz raised the alarm, asking, “Did we ever think we’d be worse than the Bronx when it comes to violent crime with a firearm?” This week, he says Buffalo is one of the only urban areas in the state where the pendulum of crime is swinging the right way.

If current anti-violence initiatives are working, good. The city and county should double down on them, even when statistics show improvement.

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Related to this story

The number of shooting victims in Buffalo fell in the first half of this year, and a task force report released Monday shows the city's decline in shooting incidents, injuries and deaths in the first three months of 2022 was the exception compared with other major cities in New York State.

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