By Joshua Maloni
Local leaders are working to establish a community watch program within the River Region as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and businesses are working with reduced staff.
At Monday’s Lewiston safety briefing, Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Pauly said, “This would be to help the police department, the sheriff's department, any type of department that could use an extra set of eyes.
“I can tell you that, with the closing of many of our businesses, a lot of them are concerned about possible theft and things of that nature.
“I think we do all kind of watch out for each other, but this is something that is definitely on the horizon that we can be proactive about. …
“It is something that we have to think about. We've been fortunate not to have to establish those types of programs, but it is something that we need to do.”
Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte said, “That's something that we've been in support of for a long time, and actually provided some information and tried to push that in the community.”
He said a similar program existed in Sanborn and served as an effective means of communication between residents and law enforcement.
“It gives us extra eyes and ears, especially,” Previte said. “I can tell you that, unfortunately … the worse that this gets, we're expecting that we will have some problems with burglaries or different things as people get in need and get desperate. That's, unfortunately, the type of thing that happens.”
“So, to help with that, there’s a national organization, National Neighborhood Watch, is the organization that we're looking at. And what that is, is the organizers, as far as community members, get together; they get the help of their neighbors and whoever wants to enlist; they sign up to the national registry for this, for the neighborhood watch. And then they can work. And once they get that, and they get to that point where they begin to develop that, then the partnership with the police department kicks in.”
He explained, “We've tried to encourage that, and we’ll push out information. But, we’re really waiting for somebody else in the community to kind of take the lead with that. That's why, I think, the chamber might be a perfect vehicle.”
Previte said heightened times of need can cause people to break the law.
“We do notice a correlation that, when things get hard – it’s just like with the holidays – we have a lot of shoplifting problems. People with the holidays, when the holidays come around, is when you see an uptick in bank robberies, in larcenies, in burglaries. So, we expect the same kind of thing.
“We're hoping that that’s not the case, but that could very well be the case.”
Regardless, Previte said a neighborhood watch program is “a great idea.”
“I think something like that provides an extra set of eyes and ears; people in the neighborhood that are aware of what's going on around, and especially with the way things are now with the state of emergency and all,” he said. “We're going to have an advantage, because most people are around and they’re not out and about. They're going to be around their house, or their neighborhood, a little bit more.”
He said residents should, “Be observant, be extra vigilant in the neighborhoods, as far as who’s in your neighborhood, vehicles that you see in your neighborhood. Not to the point where you're paranoid, but to the point where you're watching out for each other.
“And I think that the positive in this is that it gives the opportunity for networking, and for people to come together.
“That'll help, even if there isn't an influx. It'll help with current situations and problems that we have anyway, regular day-to-day stuff.”
Normally, the LPD would work within the confines of a budget with the Town and Village of Lewiston, as far as manpower. With New York, Niagara County and the municipalities all under a state of emergency related to the coronavirus, however, Previte said his officers could work extra hours. The LPD would be eligible for either state or federal reimbursement.
“We're not doing anything right now that much differently, because we're kind of in the beginning stage. We don't want to spend a lot of resources now, when we don't know how bad things could get,” Previte said. “My goal right now has changed drastically, as chief of police. My goal is still protecting the public, but one of my main goals now is to keep all my cops safe, and well, and healthy. Because, again, we don't know what might be the case.
“I have to have these officers; this is a resource that is not unlimited, unfortunately; so, I have to be very careful with what we do, resource-wise, in planning for what might happen down the road.”
DiMino Lewiston Tops is the prime place for groceries in the River Region.
In a press release Sunday, corporate Tops representative Kathy Sautter said, “As essential organizations here in our community, together we are working to ensure that we have the items you need during this trying time. We appreciate your patience as our supply chains and distribution teams have been working around the clock to ensure that the food, cleaning supplies, household essentials and pharmaceuticals that you need are reaching our stores as quickly as possible and are available to purchase in-store, with grocery pick-up, or by delivery.”
On Monday, Pauly said, “I know (Lewiston) Tops has been busy. And I do know that, every time that I've been in, it's been very, very clean – and you can smell the bleach. I know they've been working very hard to get that as clean as possible. I'm thankful for them to be able to provide. I know they're also adhering to social distancing, as much as they can, and clearing everything out, so we appreciate all that.”
Lewiston Tops implemented special Tuesday and Thursday morning shopping hours specifically for seniors. Patrons ages 60 and up have exclusive access to the supermarket from 6-7:30 a.m.
The Chamber of Commerce also is working to supply nonperishables to those who may be off of work or otherwise in need right now. There is a donation table outside the office at the Academy Park corner of Center and South Ninth streets.
“We have donated items out front on our table, and people are able to pick it up, as they need it. They're also able to donate, as they need it,” Pauly said. “It's a give or take pantry, so people can take what they need, give what they need. It's right out front on our porch; and it's definitely something that is needed in our community now with the amount of people that are out of work.”
She added, “There's a container there with toiletries, as well, if somebody needs those. Whoever needs anything, we're hoping that this will help.”