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Community leaders embrace technology and social media to confront crime

By Joann Steinmetz

In response to a recent increase in crime, neighborhood associations across North Buffalo are turning increasingly to e-mail and other internet tools for communicating with residents.  Community leaders have found that a large number of households have access to computers making this an effective way to get the word out quickly.     

On Tuesday, October 12th, the Pan Am Watch Area (PAWA), a neighborhood association that encompasses households located west of Delaware Park and bordered by the Scajaquada Expressway, Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street, hosted a meeting at School 64 to learn how City Hall and the Buffalo Police Department are tackling the crime plaguing neighborhoods in recent months.  Block clubs and neighborhood groups such as the Parkside Community Association, the Central Park Homeowners Association, the Five Point Block Club and the newly formed North Buffalo Block Club Association were invited to attend.

PAWA posted the invite on its website, www.panamwatcharea.ning.com, which is hosted by Ning, a social networking platform for organizations and activists.  Ning promotes its services to those who want to create custom, cause-related websites that serve as a hub for their activities.  Leaders of the other neighborhood groups are members of the site and received the notice which they then shared with their own e-mail networks.  This is a far cry from back in the day when phone trees and flyers distributed door to door were the quickest way for neighborhood groups to communicate with residents.  

Mayor Byron Brown and Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda addressed the group of about 150 residents.  The Mayor praised PAWA’s Dick Gordon who organized and broadly promoted the meeting.  The Mayor also singled out Connie Trask, president of the Central Park Homeowners Association for her frequent e-mail blasts alerting neighbors to the criminal activity which has also escalated in that neighborhood.

The Mayor urged the audience to participate in KNOW, Keeping Neighborhoods on Watch, which the Mayor and commissioner unveiled this past summer (www.city-buffalo.com/know).  The neighborhood-based e-mail alert system allows city block clubs and residents to report suspicious activity that is then shared with neighbors and monitored by the Buffalo Police.  It’s a confidential system that also permits residents who fear retaliation to forward tips anonymously.

Brown and Derenda outlined steps already taken to combat crime including increased patrols, authorized overtime and expanded use of undercover cars.  Despite this and their accolades for community work being done, the Mayor, as well as the Commissioner, took a fair amount of heat during the Q & A that followed their presentations.  

Ironically, less than an hour before the meeting began, a woman was mugged on Linden Avenue in broad daylight.  A student from Maritime Charter School, who was walking home from the subway and witnessed the incident, tried to catch the perpetrator who escaped in a getaway car waiting on Morris Avenue.  While the woman was not injured, her experience was still traumatic and was dramatic evidence of the crimes impacting North Buffalo.

Residents complained about slow reaction to 911 calls.  While not excusing the problem, the Mayor explained that the 911 system is run by Erie County and not controlled by the Buffalo Police Department.  He suggested calls be made to Peter Vito, Erie County Commissioner of Central Police Services at (716) 858-6365.

Dan Genco addressed his complaint to both the Mayor and commissioner regarding a night-time home invasion of his Parker Avenue residence.  When police finally arrived, Genco was dismayed by their lackadaisical attitude and one officer’s suggestion that he “Get a gun and a dog.”  In addition, no detective ever followed-up on the matter.  Derenda called this unacceptable saying that police officers are “not employed to give their personal opinions.”  He continued, “If we look upset, we are upset,” and promised Genco that a detective would contact him the next day.

Gang activity is a significant factor in North Buffalo crime.  The Central Park Boys and other gangs are sending underage kids into neighborhoods to commit burglaries and robberies as initiation rituals.  Fourteen and fifteen year-olds are being arrested but are back on the streets sometimes in a matter of hours.  “Young kids have no fear,” said the Mayor and he urged community leaders to invite city judges to their meetings to see if any other measures can be taken can be done under these circumstances.

After the meeting, dozens of residents did some old-fashioned verbal networking, exchanging e-mail addresses and other information to build communication further across North Buffalo.  Richard Raines from the North Buffalo  Block Club Association invited neighbors to his Facebook page and encouraged them to read about his group’s “Less Politics More Police” campaign to increase the number of officers in the force.   Raines said that he has hundreds of Facebook members and is committed to building his base by hosting and attending events such as this.

Lead Image: Richard Raines, NB Block Club Association, and Connie Trask, Central Park Homeowners Association, discuss common issues.

Written by Buffalo Rising

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