Chris’s Corner: A Reserve Police Force for the Falls

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By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

Reasonable people can debate whether criminal activity is higher this year in Niagara Falls or it’s just a matter of social media purveyors plastering it in our face 24/7. 

When 24-hour cable news began airing in 1980 it seemed like there were more natural and man-made news events happening, but it was just a matter of them being reported on a continuous loop for the first time.

Whether true crime stats show crime is up, down or flat, we have a perception issue in Niagara Falls. More police on the streets would help reduce crime and improve the image of the city, but we just don’t have the funds to hire more police officers. And as long as we’re locked into union contracts that make it outrageously expensive to run the city, this problem isn’t going away.

So maybe it’s time we create a reserve police force, made up of retired police or military officers, as a compliment to our paid police force.

There are a lot of moving parts and complexities to something of this nature, too much for a 600 word column, but let me try to simplify it.

Let’s “hire” an Auxiliary Police Commander who will report directly to the city’s police chief. Working with the chief, the city administration, corporation counsel and human resources, this retired officer will develop policies for hiring and managing a part-time squad of officers, paid around $15 per hour (with no benefits, pensions, etc., as they already have that from prior service.)

We’ll need to clearly establish roles, reporting lines, interaction with the paid force, level of equipment, training, etc. 

Perhaps these officers are out on the streets, increasing police visibility and deterring criminal activity. Or maybe they’re in the police station, staffing the jail, working the front desk, etc. All of this and so much else is best left to the experts, but the possibilities are limitless and the thought of making the city safer with reduced costs is appealing.

While these officers should be paid some token wage that will be a new line item in our budget, the goal should be to dramatically reduce police overtime. Basically, the goal will be to add to our crime fighting force while lowering expenses.

There will be plenty of objections. Legal liability will be just one, but the city has legal liability issues with its paid force, so that’s nothing new. And with training and good policies, we can reduce the risks. There will be plenty of other objections, and certainly the two police unions will put up a fuss.

But just imagine having an additional dozen or two dozen uniformed officers walking the beat along Main Street, Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Street, Pine Avenue, etc. Imagine them patrolling the downtown area during the tourist season, freeing up time for our paid force to patrol the city without worrying about being locked in a traffic jam on Rainbow Boulevard.

Once we get this force established, we can move on to helping the fire department. That will be an easier task, as so many of our firefighters live in towns that have a volunteer fire company and so they’ll be more sympathetic to the idea of a volunteer force assisting them in keeping the city safe.

After all, our police and firefighter unions put public safety ahead of everything else, even if it means sacrificing some overtime pay and perhaps some other sacrifices that help the city.

 

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