NIAGARA FALLS – When Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto took office at the beginning of the year, he put more police officers on the streets. The Narcotics Intelligence Department also increased the number of search warrants it carried out, acting on even the smallest of tips from the community.
The results: The number of felony drug arrests has more than doubled.
But more significantly, the overall crime rate has been creeping down.
Felony crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary and larceny, dropped by 2 percent in the city from 2012 to 2013, according to Operation IMPACT statistics from the state Department of Criminal Justice.
“The catalyst for all these crimes seems to float around narcotics,” said DalPorto, a former detective lieutenant with the narcotics unit. “Two percent isn’t a big number, but it’s a big number in the scheme of things when you are talking about the number of calls for service and the number of felonies.”
Roger Spurback, president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, agrees that the police seem to be getting the upper hand in the war on drugs.
“They are winning it step by step, block by block,” Spurback said. “It’s a long, long process to get the background information. These aren’t like the dealers of the past. They move drugs by cellphone. They have cameras, and they know who’s coming and going. The police are on top of it, probably ahead of the game.”
Drug-related arrests are up 110 percent since 2012, from an average of five per month to as many as 19 or 20 felony drug arrests some months this year.
“We’ve really tried to focus on quality of life, neighborhood complaints, narcotics dealing, and we’ve had positive results for the city and have gotten a lot of positive feedback,” said DalPorto. “I think we’ve refocused the mission of the department.”
Spurback said retired Chief John Chella did a very good job, but he liked some of the personnel moves DalPorto made in the narcotics unit.
“He put a lot of good officers in there with a lot of experience,” Spurback said.
Narcotics Capt. David LeGault said his six detectives have been working “very, very hard.”
“I know we’ve gotten their attention,” LeGault said of drug dealers. “They tell us they are moving out of the city. We’ve absolutely got their attention.”
But he also said it has been a departmentwide battle, with many officers taking part in citywide search warrants.
Spurback said, “They’re doing an outstanding job. I know our people are very pleased.”
The aggressive tactics are continuing.
Early Friday, Niagara Falls detectives teamed up with the department’s Emergency Response Team and a Lewiston police dog to carry out two raids and arrest two men who have faced felony drug charges before.
Lavon Parks, 23, of 18th Street was captured in a raid on a relative’s home on Welch Avenue. He was charged with felony possession of crack cocaine, which LeGault said had just been prepared on the kitchen stove and was still warm.
At 1310 North Ave., resident Lawrence Smith, 25, was caught with what LeGault said was a felony amount of crack, along with prescription pills and a small amount of marijuana.
Two days earlier, the drug officers and the response team, along with the Niagara County Drug Task Force and a Sheriff’s Office dog, raided 412 Fourth St. They arrested resident Keith Garcia, 19, who was charged with felony heroin possession. LeGault said police also found a small amount of marijuana and half of a 9 mm handgun that had been reported stolen in Ohio.
The week’s record also included a search warrant executed just before midnight last Tuesday at 421 20th St. by the Emergency Response Team, detectives and the Drug Task Force.
They charged resident Michael S. Toarmino, 24, with felony drug and weapons counts after finding suspected crack cocaine and a sawed-off shotgun, which was hidden in a wall.
A short time later, the same group of officers raided 1705 Whitney Ave. and busted resident Michael Maye, 29, on similar charges. He allegedly had felony amounts of crack and a loaded .22-caliber revolver. Also picked up there was Frank Thomas, 33, of Memorial Parkway, charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.
Both DalPorto and LeGault said they have consistently seen marijuana and crack cocaine on the streets, but they’re seeing heroin more often, as well as a few methamphetamine labs.
Spurback said he expected more heroin activity in the wake of the 2011 arrest of Dr. Pravin V. Mehta, who authorities said was a major source of illegal prescription drugs in the Falls. Heroin, he said, “was a replacement for the pharmaceutical pills.”
LeGault said police also have tried to hit dealers in the wallet, seizing vehicles and cash from drug trades.
DalPorto said, “It’s a battle every day. We’ve definitely sent a strong message: If you are going to sell or do drugs, Niagara Falls is not the place for you. We will come and do a search warrant. We will kick in your door if we have to, but we are not going to put up with it in Niagara Falls.”