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NIAGARA FALLS – As the owner of some of the most coveted – and potentially valuable – real estate in upstate New York, Niagara Falls Redevelopment has a vested interest in seeing to it that people believe the city is safe.

Now the group is trying to make that happen.

The Federal Law Enforcement Foundation, which has a direct connection with NFR, will soon begin funding programs for the Niagara Falls Police Department.

The foundation is led by Anthony Bergamo, who founded it and also is the chief executive officer of NFR. Roger Trevino, executive vice president of the NFR, said he is serving as an intermediary between the two groups.

“We don’t pretend to know what they need, but will work with the local police department in identifying those needs,” Trevino said. “It will happen on their needs basis, not ours. We are looking to become involved and see what is really needed. We are hoping to do a lot of good work.”

The foundation has put cash into the pockets of first responders in their time of need, handing out more than $15 million over the past 25 years.

No specific programs or funding for Niagara Falls has been announced, but the goal will be to change the city’s image.

“It is the perception, whether real or perceived, that thinks that tourists are targets,” Trevino said.

NFR owner Howard Milstein also is a supporter of the foundation. Trevino conceded that NFR would be a major beneficiary if perceptions of safety in the city change, but he said there are “no politics involved” in giving funds to the Niagara Falls Police Department.

“Mr. Bergamo has been involved in the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation longer than he has been with NFR. He was the foundation founder,” Trevino said. “These programs are in over 200 communities and over 10 foreign countries.”

The connection between the two groups became more public this month when Trevino provided Niagara Falls Officer William Gee two checks for $1,000, one from NFR and another one from the foundation.

Gee, a single father raising two sons, has stage 4 stomach cancer and has been unable to return to work.

Trevino said the foundation has provided funds to other local first responders, offering support for programs and grants for fallen and injured officers in the Buffalo Police Department, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and funds for area police athletic leagues.

“They put their life on the line and it is a pleasure to pay them back,” he said of first responders.

Trevino said NFR will continue to work with law enforcement to help change public perceptions of Niagara Falls. He noted that quality of life issues are what people look at when they move to a community.

He said foundation funding includes scholarship programs, drug reduction programs, executive education, Big Brother programs, widows and children’s funds and financial assistance for police athletic leagues throughout the country.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com