By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Officials announced the first law enforcement “impact zone” in Lockport on Friday, promising an all-out effort to uproot the criminal element that lurks in the heart of the city.
The impact zone, an area roughly bounded by Transit, Walnut, Erie and High streets, will be the subject of stepped-up police patrolling, unannounced road blocks and a building code enforcement blitz, Mayor Michael Tucker and Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert said.
The Niagara County Sheriff’s Department and New York State Police will be sending patrol cars into the zone routinely as well, spokesmen for those agencies confirmed at a Friday press conference. The city’s state Legislature representatives will look for funding to help the city purchase video cameras that can be placed at key intersections.
“We have a message for the criminals: We may not be a big city ... but that doesn’t mean we’re going to sit here and take it,” Tucker declared. “We want to know who’s in our city (and) if you’re up to no good, we don’t want you here.”
The declaration follows a spate of unusually violent crimes and police encounters with unstable suspects in the past month or so. Officers have responded to two shootings, one Jan. 3 near Walnut and Washburn Streets and another Dec. 24 on Genesee Street.
On Dec. 31, Eggert himself disarmed a knife-wielding woman who stabbed the man that allegedly tried to kill her 7-year-old daughter in lowertown.
Two weeks ago a routine traffic stop on Cottage Street yielded a woman hiding a large quantity of prescription drug pills, a couple chunks of suspected cocaine — and a large butcher knife in the back seat of her vehicle. The woman, described by the patrol officer as “irate” and “acting strangely,” ate some of the cocaine and had to be medically treated for a possible overdose.
On Thursday, police busted a pair of suspected drug dealers after a routine traffic stop at Washburn near South street. Both suspects fled the vehicle and struggled physically with officers trying to stop them; one got away and both officers suffered minor injuries, Eggert said.
In some but not all of those cited incidents, police note, the aggressors are from outside the Lockport area.
Eggert asserted “most major crimes” in the city are being committed by outsiders, who come from Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Rochester, often to sell drugs then go home.
Technically, Tucker announced creation of an inter-agency “project impact team” that will hit selected geographic areas of the city based on reported rates of criminal activity.
The Transit-High-Erie-Walnut area is the “first” declared impact zone but it won’t be the only one, he promised.
The Transit-High-Erie-Walnut zone is first because it’s where police are seeing the biggest increase in service calls. According to Eggert, from 2011 through 2012, the department saw a 27 percent increase in calls for service, meaning every thing officers do from writing parking tickets and fielding nuisance complaints to investigating a shooting.
“It’s a pretty significant increase,” Eggert said. “It means the neighbors are starting to notice” bad acts by others.
On the city map, the impact zone is the center of Lockport, and the Washburn-Genesee streets intersection is the center of the zone.
A stone’s throw from two major real estate developments, the $8.6 million Lockport Canal Homes rental housing project by Housing Visions and a $4 million project to remake a section of Harrison Place for Trek Inc., “Washburn-Genesee” also has been code for “bad neighborhood” for at least the past couple of decades.
The Jan. 3 non-fatal shooting of a city resident occurred within one city block of the Housing Visions and Trek projects. The shooter fired at least two shots, one of which traveled across Washburn Street and struck a window at Harrison Place.
Learning that was the last straw for Tucker. Project Impact was born a little more than a week later.
“We’re putting serious money into this area and we’re not going backward,” he said.
Tucker said city officials will make sure all arrest reports generated from the zone and any court documents that follow, are marked “Impact Zone” — and he called on the Niagara County District Attorney’s office, the city prosecutor and city court judges to grant fewer “favorable” plea deals in those cases.
D.A. Michael Violante, who attended the press conference, wouldn’t make any blanket promises about no pleas, but he pledged his office “will focus on the City of Lockport a little more” when handling its criminal cases.
Project Impact calls for increased law enforcement to be complemented with increased building code enforcement. City inspectors will be looking most closely at boarded-up properties and “problem” rental houses, Tucker said, “but all property is in play.”
With the enforcement moves, Eggert said police officials will be “reaching out” to residents in the impact zone to let them know the effort is meant to help, not target, them. Officials will seek meetings with neighborhood groups throughout the zone, he said.