Story and photo by Terry Duffy
They came, voiced their opinions and then some. But, in the end, the matter remained far from settled.
Monday evening, the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees met for its regularly scheduled session. The Lewiston Police Department's funding issue with the village was not on the agenda. But it was on the minds of roughly 80 visitors who packed the board meeting room, filling out into the hallway at the Red Brick Municipal Building to voice support for the LPD and its continued role of patrolling village streets.
Village Mayor Terry Collesano opened the community comments segment of the meeting with an endorsement for the LPD and its law enforcement duties in the village. "I want to say first and foremost, that the board is satisfied in general what the Lewiston Police has done for our community.
"This board is more concerned for the village taxpayers," he continued, "and we also feel that the Lewiston Police, Town Board and the Village Board can work collectively together to come to an agreement on how best to lower the cost for all our taxpayers - the town, the village - and still keep with our police presence."
Collesano informed attendees on what the village has done over the past few weeks - namely its meetings with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office and LPD Chief Chris Salada and Sgt. Frank Previte. "What we have done .... is a fact-finding mission. We would be remiss if we didn't do such."
Collesano said the NCSO presented "a vast selection of different scenarios," while Salada's and Previte's visit was termed "very informative, very productive."
But no actions were taken at either meeting, he stressed. Collesano said the Village and Town of Lewiston will meet on Monday, Oct. 29, where discussions from both sessions will be shared with Town Supervisor Steve Reiter and the Town Board. ("Hopefully we) can work together on an agreement on many of the same issues that both the Lewiston Police and the village has discussed. Our plan, our hope, is to reduce the cost for all village and town taxpayers alike, and at the same time offer our citizens the police protection that you have come to expect."
The session then opened to comments. Eight speakers representing the interests of residents and local businesses spoke. And virtually all of them came out in strong support of maintaining the current presence of the Lewiston Police on village streets, with many saying they'll accept the added cost. Some notable responses:
•Ron LaDuca of Oneida Street opened and spoke for many on hand, raising point after point on why the current Lewiston Police presence in the village needs to continue. He spoke of his 20 years of law enforcement experience with the New York State Division of Parole and of working with LPD, telling trustees, "If we were all satisfied with what we are hearing, we wouldn't be here tonight."
On dealing with crime - "It's here, it's prevalent, it's here - I want more police, fire protection, not less," LaDuca said. He called village plans to reduce shifts "completely despicable."
LaDuca told the board about parolees and sex offenders he deals with in Lewiston and the worry they cause. "You don't always know where they are and what they're doing." He added some parolees he deals with have read recent Sentinel articles on LPD's funding and are already taking note.
LaDuca then spoke of the diligence of Lewiston officers, their familiarity, and compared that to sheriffs who may respond from other areas of the county, commenting their attentiveness wouldn't necessarily be the same. LaDuca also made mention of communities such as Akron and Blasdell in Erie County that opted to go with the Erie County Sheriff's Office only to return to local patrols. "They went to sheriff's enforcements. They are no longer with them."
Why? "They wanted their control back."
LaDuca next brought up Lewiston's festivals, Artpark, and said that increased activity brings more cost to the village. "Deal with it," he said. And he noted the potential impact of a LPD loss on local businesses. "If there's less protection, you're going to have some issues."
Pointing to the number of Lewiston Police in attendance at the session, he closed, with "Guys thanks for the job that you do," to wide applause by many.
•Dave Meadows of Guard Street, a former law enforcement officer from Georgia who relocated to Lewiston, went on to second much of what LaDuca had just said. "Criminals don't punch a clock," he said, chastising the village's considerations of reduced patrols to save money. "Law enforcement is 24/7; criminals are 24/7."
Meadows continued, "I would hate to think as a citizen ... that I would have to be placed in consideration as a bundling package from Time Warner" ... the extras, the reduced ... (with police) It's not how that happens."
"I want you to consider what you do before you do that," he concluded.
On calls at the session for an increased police presence in the village, Trustee Bruce Sutherland came out in support, saying the village has discussed that as well as a substation with Salada in its recent talks. "That is what we're trying to work for ... people out walking the beat ... we'd like a little more of that." He went to praise LPD as being knowledgeable, of knowing the area. "We'd like to have more here, not less, and we want to do that and keep tax dollars down. ..."
•Oneida Street resident Jacqueline Lampman was one of the few who came out supporting the village's consideration of NCSO patrols. "I feel very intimidated," said Lampman on the lack of visibility of LPD officers. "When the Lewiston Police moved to Creek Road, you never see them," she said. "There's no Lewiston Police at all" when you need them, Lampman continued, noting instances of youth drug activity, of speeding problems in the village and a lack of LPD response. "I'm for it (NCSO patrols)," said the resident. "Money is money; we cannot afford to pay for overtime."
•A number of village business people then went on to speak, such as attorney Karl Frankovich, Matt Duat of Water Street Landing, developer Emery Simon, Center Street dentist Dr. Jason Marshall, realtor Noreen O'Connell, and Jane Coosmine of Jane's Café Express. All came out in support of maintaining LPD patrols in the village. Comments included: concerns over maintaining a quality of life in the village by Frankovich; Water Street Landing management desiring a greater police presence; Simon calling for Artpark to pay for police patrols for its concerts; Marshall saying that "police protection is not a commodity"; O'Connell's calling LPD's presence and Lewiston's safe environment a commodity that she sells to outsiders as an amenity; and Coosmine saying that she feels safe having Lewiston patrols in the village.
•North Seventh Street resident Marjory Callins ended the comments with questions on the police budget and calls for the village to come to grips with costs. "You're creating costs with the festivals and blaming the town," said the resident, adding that the 23 percent figure the village paid the town is actually less than it was three years ago. Callins also observed that increased sheriff's costs by covering Lewiston could translate into added costs and taxes on the county level.
Collesano closed the comments segment by stating again the village was to meet with the town on Oct. 29 and the matter is not settled. "Nothing will be done until that time. Possible issues will be resolved at that time," he said, adding "we'll wait and see."
More to come on the LPD as news develops.