By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Concerned residents gave Lockport's Impact Team Project two thumbs up at a community meeting Thursday.
The meeting at Refuge Temple, Cottage Street, drew a variety of city dwellers — homeowners, rental property owners, tenants — from in and out of the so-called Impact Zone, the area between Erie and Transit, High and Walnut streets where Lockport police have stepped up patrolling and building inspectors have launched a inspection blitz.
Police community aide Mark Sanders organized the meeting so that residents could ask questions of city officials, mainly Police Chief Lawrence Eggert, regarding government's intentions in the zone.
Officials had been braced for criticism of law enforcement activities including dramatically increased vehicle-and-traffic ticketing in the zone. They thought they might take lumps for appearing to target low-income neighborhoods and ignore other trouble zones in the city.
Instead, the 30 or so residents who came out to talk with them indicated real appreciation for Impact activities — and a desire for more.
An unnamed man who said he owns 10 rental properties in the city said Impact is "good business for me," because if it cuts the crime rate and forces recalcitrant property owners to clean up, hopefully more decent people will want to relocate here.
"We need to keep the area desirable so people will see it as a bedroom community," he said.
Residents asked about the city's plans for handling boarded-up houses and absentee landowners. The city should turn up the heat on problem property owners by listing their names in the newspaper, resident Jean Kiene said.
Sanders announced he's putting together another free "landlord-tenant school," a seminar for rental property owners with information from attorneys, law enforcement officers, building inspectors, and housing court Judge Tom DiMillo, this spring.
Several residents requested the return of LPD foot patrols and a walking K9 patrol to city streets. Both will be once the weather is warmer, Eggert said.
From the audience, about the only criticism of the Impact project concerned the way in which was declared, in a mid-January press conference covered by several newspapers and Buffalo TV stations.
In the reports, Eggert and Mayor Michael Tucker were quoted pretty extensively as saying violent crime and police service call rates were on the rise in Lockport, in parts of it at least.
The quotes and sound bites made it sound like Lockport is a "dangerous" place when it's really not, former alderwoman Phyllis Green said; the problems that police are going after have existed for years.
All that the Impact declaration did was warn the riff-raff to go elsewhere for a while — while likely "discouraging good people from coming in," she added.
Erie Street homeowner and rental property owner Allan Jack disagreed, saying he believes the declaration will help Lockport in the long run. Not only did the "criminal element" get a message about low tolerance for bad behaviors, he said, "publicizing this helped landlords know LPD is on our side."