NIAGARA FALLS – The federal government will soon help Niagara Falls combat robberies in its downtown tourism district and fight more violent crime in residential neighborhoods.
A new partnership between the city’s Police Department and a federal anti-crime task force will allow federal officials to develop a specific crime-fighting plan for Niagara Falls, said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who announced the agreement Tuesday afternoon.
Niagara Falls is one of eight cities nationwide to be picked for the new plan, which officials say will increase the quality of life in the city while spurring business development.
“As soon as I heard about the program, I realized Niagara Falls was the best place to try it out,” Schumer said at a news conference downtown. “To put it simply, this amounts to a one-two punch for Niagara Falls. Not only does it cut crime, it will attract new tourists and businesses to this subsequently safer landmark city.”
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice will bring a specialized crime task force to the city soon to evaluate patterns, diagnose the city’s most pressing crime issues and, in about six months, issue a report outlining solutions for fighting crime.
The agreement with the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center will bring federal experts to the city to meet with Falls police officials and community leaders, who will develop the sort of wide-ranging plan that Schumer said has proven successful in other places like New York City.
Like a similar Falls city program funded by a state grant, the new arrangement will help city police leaders use data to take a big-picture look at where the most crimes are happening so that they can deploy more officers to the trouble areas.
Shootings, robberies and rapes in the city have all decreased or stayed at the same level as last year, police officials said, but the city this year has seen a significant spike in thefts and assaults.
“Unfortunately, 2012 is not the greatest year for the City of Niagara Falls as far as crime,” said Police Superintendent John R. Chella. “I welcome this opportunity for the federal government to give us new approaches, a new set of eyes, to point us in the right direction and maybe start to get these numbers down.”
According to Schumer, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services documented more than 3,500 crimes in the city last year, and more than 80 percent of the crimes were property-related, something Chella attributed in part to the struggling economy.
Police have said that the summer tourist season typically brings a spike in car robberies downtown.
“The bottom line, these numbers, we all know are too high,” Schumer said. “Families in Niagara Falls want to feel safer, and this program should be a large step in making it that way.”
Mayor Paul A. Dyster noted that the agreement comes at no cost to the cash-strapped city, which is struggling to maintain services without an anticipated $58 million in revenues from the Seneca Niagara Casino.
“From the federal government to the local level, we need to find ways of working smarter and working cheaper, and this is a great example of that,” Dyster said.