Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 20, 2013

HOPKINS: This planned crackdown looks familiar

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — “Who wants to go down to Times Square and look at the

hookers?”

That crass joke was my introduction to New York City during a college field trip in April 1990. I was reminded of the joke when I attended Friday’s press conference at Lockport City Hall, during which Mayor Michael Tucker announced a new “impact zone” where efforts will be stepped up to deter crime, bight and other inner-city problems.

Now, Lockport and New York City have hardly anything in common. The Big Apple has 8 million people, Lockport a hair over 20,000. New York is the cultural and commerce capital of the U.S. Lockport is the birthplace of First Niagara Bank and has some very nice theaters and art centers, but they won’t be confused for Broadway or Greenwich Village.

Yet, they both have urban problems such as blight and crime. It appears that Lockport is about to take a page out of Rudy Giuliani’s playbook on how to clean up a city.

In 1990, Times Square was still a seedy district in midtown Manhattan, complete with the aforementioned ladies of the night, X-rated movie theaters and more. It was a far cry from the family-friendly place it is today. It would be safe to say that 23 years ago, Times Square still reflected the New York City of the 1970s (think “The French Connection”) than it did by the turn of the millennium.

Some of Times Square’s turnaround began before Giuliani took office in Jan. 1994. However, his “Broken Windows” approach to stomping out petty crime and other nuisances played a major role in that city’s turnaround from seedy to spiffy.

Crackdowns on graffiti, marijuana possession, turnstile jumping in the subway and aggressive panhandlers made a difference. Tourists began to take note. I saw a difference in July 1996, six years after my first visit. And the residents even seemed friendlier.

In Lockport, there has been an increase in crime and other problems in the area generally bordered by Transit Road, Walnut Street, Erie Street and High Street. There have been at least three shootings within nine months, including two just a few weeks apart. Holdups are happening more frequently.

It’s not something one would expect in a little city such as Lockport. The neighborhood is experiencing a bit of a renaissance and, with major housing investments along Genesee Street and a large financial commitment at Harrison Place, it’s something that city officials want to nip in the bud.

Tucker noted that people left the neighborhood in droves in the 1990s as a major crack epidemic swept through. There are many rental properties in the area and some homes have been boarded up for 20 years. But people have been coming back, and Tucker said he wants to make sure these people stay.

“If you’re coming in here to do good things, we’ll welcome you here,” Tucker said Friday. Added Chief of Police Lawrence Eggert, “We don’t want our residents to feel like they’re being targeted.”

Unlike New York City, Lockport officials say the problem isn’t with the residents but rather with visitors and people passing through. Lockport has been known for years by local, state and federal officials as a favorite stopping point for drug dealers working out of Buffalo — and Niagara Falls — and Rochester. It’s easy to set up shop for a few days, make some deals, then take off.

Those are the people that city officials are hoping to deter from setting up temporary or permanent shop. It will cost a little bit of money, but Eggert said he believes the recent spike in crime and other problems has just begun, and it won’t be as costly to address the problem now as it would if city officials held off for a while.

“There’s a lot of good people in that neighborhood, and they matter to us,” Tucker said.

I saw Friday’s announcement as a positive step. If residents in the neighborhood are on board with it, they’ll step up as well,by reporting suspicious behavior. Something tells me they will, especially if they see that the police and housing inspectors are looking out for them.

It may not be New York City, but Lockport is looking to take a positive step in protecting — and enhancing — its quality of life.