Lewiston Police Department: You have questions. We have answers.

Though the Town of Lewiston Council rejected his request for a permissive referendum on the future of the Lewiston Police Department, village resident Ron Craft is intent on bringing the issue to the masses for a vote.

And though the issue of eliminating the LPD and utilizing the Niagara County Sheriff's Office has been written about many times - in many different publications - residents still have questions regarding Craft's intent, and how the LPD operates.

As such, the Sentinel conducted two in-depth interviews this week - one with LPD Chief Chris Salada, and another with Craft - in an effort to shed some additional light on this subject. Both men have their say below the photo.


Have your say and vote!

Why wait for a referendum? Tell us how you feel right now! Are you in favor of keeping the Lewiston Police Department, or would you rather have public safety provided by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office? Click here and vote to keep the LPD, or eliminate the department.

While this vote won't actually keep or abolish the LPD, it should tell us what people think, and how they would vote should this question come forth in a referendum.

NOTE: Your name and information will not be published without your permission. It's collected to ensure a more accurate vote count.

Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada 

Lewiston Police Chief Chris Salada.

Lewiston Police: Salada sets record straight

Lewiston Police Department Chief Chris Salada says his 10 full-time and nine part-time officers provide a particular set of services to residents that would likely be lost if a larger agency took control of public safety.

Q: On the petition ...

Salada: We, as a police department, don't have a problem with people looking into cost-savings or tax reductions or things like that. The issue that we have with it is we want to make sure that the right information is given out. We don't want misinformation out there.

I can't tell you the number of people that have come up to me alone that have said that they mistakenly signed the petition, because they were misled, or they weren't given all the information.

I've had people ask what the process is for having their name removed from it.

Q: On the budget ...

Salada: Obviously, a police department has a cost of doing business. We have a budget that we work within. But how do you put a price tag on keeping your family safe when they're at home? When they're out traveling the roads in Lewiston? When they're at a festival?

We've got more and more people coming to our festivals every year, because Lewiston is a beautiful place - and it's a safe place.

Q: What about the number of outside police agency cars we see traveling through Lewiston?

Salada: They talk about seeing all these police cars and Border Patrol in Lewiston. Lewiston is a popular place. You're going to see other agencies traveling through. But, in the big scheme of things, Lewiston has two patrols for the whole town and village, which is 64 square miles. It's a big area.

The sheriff's department typically has seven cars throughout the county for 12 townships.

Q: On the police demonstration outside of the Red Brick ...

Salada: (Another article) said that there was a public hearing in the village. It said it was in 2011. Actually, it was a regular Village Board meeting. It was not a public hearing on the police. And, it was Oct. 15 of 2012.

What happened was, the village was looking at options - and police options - and they were looking at possibly using the sheriff's department. And they were looking at cost for light coverage. ... They were looking at reduced coverage, too. (The NCSO works) 16 hours on patrol a day, as opposed to 24 hours that we provide.

Once the public found out that this was being looked at, they flooded the boardroom. And, again, it was a regular board meeting. They flooded the boardroom.

We also, as a department, we showed up there - all the officers from Lewiston showed up there in uniform so people were aware of who we were. And if they had any questions, we could answer questions. That's what we did.

We showed up. We were very friendly. We were not intimidating. That's the farthest thing from the truth, that we were trying to be intimidating.

The public came out and they said "no." Ninety-eight percent of the people there were positive about it. There were a few who spoke in favor of reducing it, but 98 percent of the people there were not in favor of reducing any police coverage, and not in favor of having another agency come in and patrol Lewiston.

The village ended up deciding that it wouldn't be beneficial to the village residents to go with another police agency or reduce any coverage to the village.

Q: On the police uniform ...

Salada: The police uniform has changed drastically over the years. Back when I was younger, you would see a trooper or a policeman had a gun belt on and it had the bullets right in the gun belt that you could see. And it had a revolver, which would typically carry six rounds.

Now we're advanced in our handgun. We're advanced in our vest. They're much safer. They're more efficient.

You'll see some of the guys wearing a tactical vest, which has a lot of pockets in it. Some of the reasoning for those pockets is we're carrying more and more medical supplies now (including a CPR mask/gauze/gloves), because we respond to not only police emergency calls, we also respond to a lot of medical calls now.

Q: The Niagara County Sheriff's Office doesn't employ part-time officers. As such, nine part-time LPD officers could lose their jobs if the LPD is eliminated.

Salada: Part-time officers are an asset to the police department. They are a way that I can have extra police protection at our festivals while staying lower in the budget, because the part-time officers, they get a lower rate of pay and they don't receive benefits.

For a specific festival that we're going to have thousands of people at, I can deploy part-time officers at a more economical rate, as opposed to staffing with a full-time officer who might get overtime or time-and-a-half.

Q: On alleged police bullying ...

Salada: There's absolutely no basis for that. I've gotten no reports of that. Obviously, it will not be tolerated. It won't be tolerated from this office ... at all.

I haven't seen it. I don't believe it's occurring.

Q: More about the budget ($1.3 million total, of which the village pays about $268,000).

Salada: We do our best. We cut where we can. ... The budget goes up the line. It gets received by the town, and toward the end of the year there's a budget hearing when the public is allowed to come in and review the tentative budget. And they can make mention of any concerns. And then, eventually, the town votes and accepts the budget.

I always stay within my budget. I'm allotted a certain amount of money for a year, and I stay within that budget.

Q: There have been comparisons between your budget and that of other municipalities. What makes Lewiston unique?

Salada: We have, throughout the summer, a lot of festivals. A lot of concerts. A lot of extra events that we have to cover. ...

We have a village, which has under 2,000 people in it, population-wise, We're bringing in - almost twice a week to the village throughout the summer - 10,000 people at night. They're going into the corner of the village (to Artpark). ... There's two ways in and two ways out. We're there protecting our residents. We're there protecting our visitors. Then we have traffic direction.

We're responsible for the safety of all the people that come in.

Q: What would Lewiston lose if the LPD ceased to exist?

Salada: You're not going to see a patrol car cruising through your neighborhoods. They're more so going to be on the main thoroughfare. They're not going to be on the side streets normally. Then when you get to the festivals, where I can deploy four to six part-time officers on a straight-time, part-time wage - which saves a lot of money - if you want those four to six guys, chances are it's going to be an overtime deal, which they're going to be making time-and-a-half their salary.

Right now, you could drive anywhere in the Town of Lewiston and the chances of you running across one of my speed signs - which are all purchased on grants - the chances of you running into one of my (seven) speed signs right now is pretty high.

Every day I get a request for a sign to be put on (another resident's) street. ... These are little things the Lewiston Police does that a bigger agency might not have time, because they're answering calls in a bigger area, to do.

Q: On the future ...

Salada: We just want to move forward. We want to continue what we're doing. We want to just continue to serve this community as best as we can, and we're going to continue to do that undeterred from this process.

Ron Craft 

Ron Craft

Craft explains intent to bring LPD disbandment to a vote

Village of Lewiston resident and former trustee Ron Craft says Lewiston is headed for financial ruin. He says shared services between the town and village - and the elimination of the Lewiston Police Department - would reduce taxes - and save jobs.

Q: The Town Board said you couldn't initiate this permissive referendum. You said you disagree. Will you fight their ruling?

Craft: Yeah. I've applied to the western region civil liberties rights office in Buffalo. I sent in a request (Thursday). ...

Originally I had called the Board of Elections and I talked to a woman about this. And she looked up the law on the computer. And she said, "Ron, you have a right to petition. It's right here that anything the board does, you have a right to do a permissive referendum."

The answer that I got (from the Town Council), I do disagree with. I think we have a right to petition. I've looked at all the laws and, like I said, I've given it to the civil liberty union western region. I have a lawyer looking at it.

I resubmitted the petition (Wednesday). ...

Basically, I'm going to push this as far as I can. Right now, I'm finding out what my rights are; what I have to do.

Q: There are other entities in the town, village and county that could be merged or eliminated. Why did you pick the LPD?

Craft: From what I understand, (former Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve) Reiter had this ready to go before. ... Basically, I saw an opportunity there to save money.

We're looking at higher taxes. ... Basically, the police department, in my estimation, is very costly. ...

Like I told (LPD Chief) Chris (Salada), it's nothing personal. It's getting to the point where it's too expensive for the village. You're talking almost $300,000 a year for one square mile here. It's getting too expensive. It's affecting all of our taxes. ...

There's nothing personal against the police here.

Q: Lewiston is unlike other communities in that it has large-scale events each week in the summer.

Craft: If you're having a festival, you (organizers) should be paying for the police. You can hire security. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

I've always favored Artpark. They are making some money now. To be honest with you, I think they should be helping us out. That's a lot of expense.

A lot of the businesses here don't see the advantages anymore, because the police are herding them out of town at the other end. ...

What we're talking is a lot of expense just to keep the festivals on. ...

I just feel it is more advantageous to start consolidating. That's my first step. ...

I think our water departments should be consolidated. A lot of people are talking about town consolidation, too. ...

You get to a point where you're starting to save some money here.

When asked if he has spoken with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, Craft said he had not. He speculated the NCSO would take on the full-time LPD officers. Of Sheriff James Voutour, Craft said, "He is a professional. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn't say a word. If this goes through, I know that he would follow through and do what he could and go with it."

Q: What about the nine part-time LPD officers who could lose their jobs if the department is eliminated?

Craft: (There are) jobs around. I think Niagara Falls could really use some police officers.

I'm not saying that's our tactic.

Q: On why eliminating the LPD and consolidating services makes sense ...

Craft: The higher the taxes, the lower the value of my house. And a lot of us have worked very hard to get where we're at. ...

When I see that eroding, because people aren't making good decisions, or things could be done a lot better, I start doing something about it. That's how I feel. ...

(Craft recently spoke with North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt) He said, 'Ron, this is the wave of the future.' He said, 'We've consolidated our dispatchers. They're all Niagara County right now. We've saved almost a million dollars a year.'

What happens is, slowly but surely, that $1.3 or $1.4 million is slowly consolidated into the county budget, and some of it is taken off our backs.

We are still going to be paying some for the county. ...

(But) you're dividing that amongst a lot more people then just a few. ...

A lot of people are consolidating departments. They're looking at things down the road.

Q: On what could happen if nothing is consolidated ...

Craft: Look at Lockport. Look at the problem they've got. That's because of too much not consolidation. They've got to get rid of their ambulance, their firemen. Their pensions are killing them. ...

All I do is look at Lockport. They used to be doing well out there. They used to have concerts. They used to have this (and that). They can't have anything anymore.

Q: On the size of the LPD ...

Craft: I want to know how many cops we had here when we first started this (department). ...

It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.

Q: Lewiston had two standoffs over the summer, and a pedestrian was killed trying to cross Center Street. Are you concerned eliminating LPD officers would hinder public safety?

Craft: The first people on the frontline are the State Police, and the next is the sheriff's (officers). OK? Next is the town police. This is the way they do it. Your sheriff's (officers) and your State Police are going to be on the front line.

I talked with the State Police. They've got two men on the road here all the time. I've seen more sheriff's (officers) in the town here the last couple of days.

As far as vandalism or anything else, you know what I tell people? The best police officer is an alarm system. ... I said all the vandalism that's gone on in this town, they've hardly caught anybody doing it - and it's almost impossible. They can't be here 24 hours a day. ...

If something goes on like the standoff, we've got police coming from all over. ...

I think we would get the same (level of protection) from the sheriff's (office). I really do.

Q: If the NCSO took over, there's been speculation that it would cost $160,000 for two officers working 16-hour shifts. You don't think it's worth the other $100,000 to have use of the entire LPD?

Craft: Well, you're talking about pensions down the road. You're talking how many police cars we've got. You're talking about a lot of equipment that's extra, too.

Q: On his plans for the future ...

Craft:This is the start. ...

When the taxes get out of reach, and you look at what our kids have got to put up with - and they're not going to have the money that we do - then who's going to turn around and pay these taxes and buy these homes?

That's my main argument. It's not a personal vendetta. It has nothing to do with the police. I've always respected any kind of policeman. It's strictly, like I told Chris, it's dollars and cents. ...

If you're going to have a festival, let's pay for the upkeep, the maintenance and the police protection. Because the wear and tear on this Center Street - the festivals get all the advantages of it, and we turn around and have to pay for cleaning it up and keeping it. ...

(Town Supervisor) Dennis (Brochey) had the right idea. What's wrong with (adding) a dollar a ticket (at Artpark to cover safety costs)? ...

I have a lot of respect for the police. ...

There's good that's going to come out of it either way.

My only thing was not to get rid of them. It isn't that I think it would be advantageous. The thing was to get it on a ballot, get the figures out, and let the people decide. ...

Craft said that, with the 500 signatures he collected, the Town Board should at least look into this matter.

"They're not doing a thing," he said. "If you've got 500 signatures, you shouldn't even have to want to put it on the referendum. ... They won't put it on a petition. They don't want to listen to what the people have to say."


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