by Terry Duffy
"We're going to concentrate on our problem till we solve it."
So says Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada in response to a recent spree of break-ins affecting village businesses. And also to claims by some in the village that Lewiston Police have not been as visible in the business area since the department's move from its office in the Village Red Brick School Municipal Building to LPD's new headquarters at the Lewiston-Porter School District campus on Creek Road.
Lewiston Police are continuing their investigations into three separate burglaries at village restaurant/bar businesses, including a recent late night vehicle drive-through at the Lewiston Village Pub, an early March break-in at the Steelhead that netted more than $3,200, and a break-in last fall at Tin Pan Alley that saw up to $5,000 taken. Salada says LPD does have its leads on possible suspects in each case, that none of the crimes are linked, and that alcohol and patrons of the respective establishments are not factors.
Of LPD's response to the business district crimes, "We're realigning things," he says. "We are concentrating on patrols, the business district, extra patrols, foot patrols."
He also says he's reaching out to the Lewiston village business community in an attempt to get a better handle on their concerns en route to addressing the crime issues. "I want to sit down with the business owners ... in smaller groups, individually," says Salada. "Go back and forth, see how we can help each other, explain our side, tell them what we're going to be doing."
He says that for now his focus is to work with the business community directly rather than that of holding community meetings with residents as was done successfully in Youngstown to address that community's crime problem. "If I can do it on small groups, one on one, I'd rather."
And he encourages the input of village business owners, adding, "Anyone who wants to come and see, they're welcome." Salada says he will be reaching out to area businesses and also to the Niagara River Region Chamber's membership in the village to address the problem, and he invites those with concerns to contact him directly.
"We need to help each other out," he says.
As to claims by some that LPD has not been as visible as it once was, Salada says that's simply not the case. "Perhaps what has changed is the perception thing," he says, noting LPD's officers' former patterns of traveling down Center Street to the Red Brick versus today's travels on Creek Road to reach the department's office and booking facilities. "Because our patrol patterns have not changed. They're exactly the same as they were when we were in the village."
He says LPD, which numbers 10 full-time and eight part-time officers, operates 24/7 and functions just as it always has. "They get their equipment here and they're out on the road, same as at the Red Brick, the patrols are the same."
As to response time - an issue raised by Pub co-owner Ken Scibetta from the recent Village Pub break-in where Niagara County Sheriff's Office responders were on the scene before Lewiston Police - Salada says LPD officers, as do other agencies, work via the Niagara County Sheriff's Office 9-11 dispatch system, which through GPS tracking of all response agencies sends the closet available car at the time to a call. "Response depends on location. In this particular case it was the sheriff's department that responded," says Salada, pointing out that Lewiston Police was dispatched to a mental health-related call at Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center at the same time that the Village Pub call came in. "The closest car that was not tied up (at that time) was the sheriff's department."
Salada says it's typical for all area response agencies - LPD, NCSO and State Police - to respond. "Agencies also come in to back each other up ... our cars overlap," he says, adding that U.S. Border Patrol agents help out at times.
Salada also points to the size of LPD's coverage area in the Town of Lewiston, one which measures 64 square miles - equivalent in geographical size to the City of Buffalo. "People have got to realize the village is 1 square mile out of the 64 that we cover," he says. "I can't dedicate every resource we have, unfortunately, to the village, because it's not fair to the others that live in the 64 square miles."
He added that LPD patrols are frequent in the village; officers are seen the neighborhoods and they're welcomed by residents. "I tell our guys to be seen in the village.
"And when we're seen we get all kinds of compliments."
Salada says as part of his strategy of increased vigilance he intends to further utilize the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and State Police - in the village business district, in village neighborhoods and in the town. "The bottom line is one burglary is one too many. We take that to heart," he says. "We want to do everything we can to keep that from happening."