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Lindsey Cruz gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to find ways to stop a rise in car thefts on Grand Island. She has now turned her efforts toward gathering support for bail reform. (Submitted photo)
Lindsey Cruz gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition to find ways to stop a rise in car thefts on Grand Island. She has now turned her efforts toward gathering support for bail reform. (Submitted photo)

Anti-crime activist sees progress on Grand Island

Sat, Mar 2nd 2024 06:55 am

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

Lindsey Cruz of Grand Island was almost a crime victim when thieves tried, but failed, to steal her car from the driveway.

That close call opened her eyes to a rise in reported vehicle thefts on the Island – six since January. Cruz launched a petition drive and garnered more than 1,000 signatures aimed at solving the problem.

Local law enforcement had already detected the rise in crime and quickly reacted with ramped-up patrols to stop the criminals in their tracks.

Cruz said her petition drive has been a success: “The community has really, really come together in order to get that signed. It’s something that they’re finding to be very important to get their voices heard.”

She said, “I’ve been checking in with our community here, and since I’ve been on the news several times – and Grand Island has been really the forefront of speaking out about the crime situation in the suburbs – crime is very, very silent on Grand Island right now. It has subsided significantly.

“I check in very frequently with the residents, and no one has reported any suspicious activity, nor stolen cars or items in the past couple weeks, which is very excellent. I think that the criminals out there are paying attention and they are now starting to see that Grand Island is not going to have it any longer.

“So, they’ve probably moved on to other neighborhoods – which obviously isn’t great, but they are no longer coming to our community at the moment.”

Cruz is encouraged that town and Erie County patrols have been increased and structured to correspond to the times and areas when thefts have occurred on Grand Island.

“I’m so thrilled that our police departments have stepped up and made changes to their schedule and allowed for more night policing,” she said.

In Cruz’s opinion, police staffing was appropriate to the level of crime before the recent spike in car thefts. She said the information she has gathered indicates the recent crimes are coming from groups off the Island.

“We were completely unprepared for it, understandably,” she said. “It was just not how our community operates. It’s never been like that in the 34 years I’ve lived on this island. So, I do applaud our supervisor, as well as the police, for taking action immediately and getting more police on the road, because that is what’s most important in deterring this crime.”

Cruz said it’s been a combination of factors that has shut down the recent crime wave.

“I want to commend the supervisor, the police, as well as the media, who took our story and took us seriously,” she said. “And I think the combined effort between everyone has really showed whomever out there is committing the crimes that it’s just not acceptable here in our community.”

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said his department is “the primary law enforcement for Grand Island at all times.” Grand Island has a part-time police force and the New York State Police patrol the I-190. “The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has two vehicles, at all times, on Grand Island.”

The sheriff is focusing on bail reform as a long-term strategy to hold criminals responsible, keep them off the streets, and keep them from becoming repeat offenders.

Cruz expressed a similar goal.

“First and foremost, I wanted to protect my community, so I was calling our (town) supervisor to action and getting the police out there, which they’ve taken care of – and it’s kind of taken a turn now where it’s become more of a petition for bail reform,” Cruz said.

That wider focus emerged when her media campaign to stop crime in her own hometown resulted in other communities contacting her about problems similar to Grand Island’s.

She said youths who commit the crimes are boasting about them on social media.

“These youths are so brazen; they are posting their criminal actions publicly online – illegal handguns, stealing cars, running from the police, mocking our justice system – because there are no consequences,” Cruz said. “It is rapidly getting out of control and going viral; and the only way to put a stop to it is to have consequences for our actions again, which means arresting, holding them on bail and, if they have to stay until their court date, then that’s what happens.”

Her petition drive has spurred a cooperative effort against crime, she said: “I think the community is working together. I’m very proud of Grand Island as a whole.”

Cruz sought a meeting with Grand Island Supervisor Peter Marston about the increase in car thefts, and that meeting has been set for March 6.

“Actually, my meeting with the town supervisor – when I first had reached out to him and wanted to meet with him – was going to be more of a, ‘Hey, we need to do something.’ But he was so quick to act that this meeting that I’m going to have with him is going to be talking more about, ‘Can we have Grand Island, as a community, stand up for bail reform?’ ” Cruz said.

She added that she will also be asking Marston to join her in arranging a community get-together at Town Hall, “where neighbors can meet each other and exchange phone numbers and go back to that small-town feeling that we should have.”

Cruz said that, although COVID caused isolation, such a community meeting could reunite Islanders in a common cause.

“That will help our community not only be a better community, but protect ourselves from things that could be going on,” she said.

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