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Town officials and community anti-crime advocates met Wednesday at Town Hall to discuss initiatives and cooperation in fighting crime in the community. From left are Lindsey and Carmelo Cruz, Grand Island Supervisor Peter Marston, Police Officer in Charge Thomas Franz and Deputy Police Officer in Charge Troy Livesay.
Town officials and community anti-crime advocates met Wednesday at Town Hall to discuss initiatives and cooperation in fighting crime in the community. From left are Lindsey and Carmelo Cruz, Grand Island Supervisor Peter Marston, Police Officer in Charge Thomas Franz and Deputy Police Officer in Charge Troy Livesay.

Building bridges toward a safer Grand Island

Sat, Mar 9th 2024 07:00 am

Story and photo by Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

Anti-crime activist Lindsey Cruz had nothing but praise this week for Grand Island law enforcement for their quick work in stopping a rise in car thefts and break-ins that plagued the first two months of 2024.

“I think everyone has done a great job, between me doing the news, you guys increasing patrols, getting the word out,” she said.

Cruz noted the would-be criminals have gotten the message: “They they’ve moved on, unfortunately to other communities.”

She met with Supervisor Peter Marston at her request this Wednesday, and Marston brought two police officials to the discussion. Marston, as supervisor, has authority as the town’s police commissioner.

A half-dozen car thefts through Feb. 22 were unusual and very concerning for a town that prides itself on safety and security within its borders.

With Grand Island’s position between the two cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and with the town’s pockets of affluence, car thieves apparently figured the Island was ripe for the picking, Police Officer in Charge Thomas Franz said at the meeting.

But the law won. Since the six initial incidents, there’s been no similar rise in crime, Franz said.

Combined police forces stopped the crime wave before it could crest and are taking added precautionary measures.

“Road officers, we all work together. It doesn’t matter what uniform you wear,” Franz said. “Our Grand Island guys are talking to the sheriff’s guys, are talking to the trooper guys. We know things that are happening and we communicate every day.”

This week’s get-together was a meeting of the minds and a pledge of mutual aid. Cruz had asked for the meeting to learn more about how she could help, going forward, in the crime-fighting effort.

Just as police were ramping up patrols and flexing their collective muscle against would-be criminals, Cruz had hit the news and social media, armed with more than 1,000 petition signatures of those seeking solutions for a safe community.

Police called the car thefts a crime of opportunity because, in many instances, cars were unlocked with the key fobs inside.

“The community is willing to help,” Cruz said. “It’s a lot of changes for all of us. We’ve taken the things out of our of our cars; we’re locking the doors; we’re taking the key out of the car.”

Cruz and her husband almost had their car stolen, but the thieves didn’t succeed.

“I engage with the community on a social media level. … I want to reach the community, and what they can do to do better. We would have done better, had we known better,” she said.

Cruz’s husband, Carmelo, said they posted their incident on social media, and it prompted a flood of similar experiences retold by Islanders.

The police officers have their means of gathering intel, including social media, and their methods have been effective in the ongoing effort to keep the thieves from their targets, Franz and Deputy Officer in Charge Troy Livesay said.

Livesay said he served 24 years as law officer with the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office.

“One of the things that I told people that would call in and then say, ‘Well, you know, I didn’t want to report it because it wasn’t that big of a deal.’ What I always told them, if you don’t report it, we don’t know it’s happening,’ ” he said. “How trivial it may seem, it lets us know, especially if we start getting different reports in different areas.”

The Grand Island Police Department has a roster of 22 part-time police officers, each of whom has years of experience in law enforcement. The Island is also served by Erie County Sheriff’s Office patrols and the State Police, as well as New York State Park Police and the U.S. Border Patrol.

Sheriff John Garcia, who lives on Grand Island, confirmed last month that his office has increased patrols and added overnight shifts to combat the string of car thefts.

Marston and Franz said the town was already well-prepared to deal with the spike in car thefts, so they fine-tuned their response and hit the ground running.

“We did increase the budget pretty substantially for the police this year so we could attract new police, because we were struggling to get them, and get a different caliber of recruit,” Marston said. “With that, we’ve also increased shifts,” and as of Jan. 1, he said officers are authorized going into night shifts. “We definitely upped the game since Jan. 1.”

He said the police department, with information from Garcia, is adding new technology to deter crime.

Carmelo Cruz said the meeting was a good learning experience: “There is something that we can do, and it’s being vigilant and being persistent.”

Marston said the town isn’t discussing its methods of crimefighting, but “Don’t confuse our silence … with (the idea that) we’re doing nothing. We’re just not showing our playbook.”

He praised the Grand Island Police Department: “We’ve got a lot going on, and these guys care about our town.”

Franz shared some statistics from Jan. 1 to the present to indicate the level of activity against crime on Grand Island.

“There’s been 132 total calls of service for suspicious individuals, suspicious persons, suspicious persons with the vehicles, and suspicious vehicles,” he said. “That’s all three agencies – Grand Island, troopers, sheriff’s (deputies). Out of those 132 that morph into a complaint of some sort, we have eight total stolen cars.”

He said two of these were not actual incidents of theft, but had other non-criminal explanations.

“Two of them were Kias and Hyundais (known for their susceptibility to theft). Three of them – keys left in vehicles,” he said. Two were smash and grabs. … Three of them were on one night; two of them were on another night. And out of all eight, every vehicle was unlocked, with keys in vehicles, too.”

“Since all this really started, since it really got big, we haven’t had any stolen vehicles,” he said.

Marston said all the police agencies who work the Island have their areas of concentration and expertise, making a strong force to be reckoned with.

Some outcomes of the meeting between Lindsey and Carmelo Cruz and the town law enforcement officials:

•The town has already decided to resume its National Night Out observance on Aug. 6. Held on the first Tuesday in August since 1984, the event aims to promote community safety. Community and police programs and initiatives are shared within local neighborhoods to improve safety and to take a stand against criminals.

The event originally began with people leaving porch lights on and sitting outside of their properties – hence the name National Night Out.

•The lines of communication and cooperation are open. Lindsey Cruz is interested in attending the next meeting of the Supervisors Community Relations Committee. It was formed as part of the state’s Police Reform Act and has been retained in Grand Island to help facilitate community awareness.

“We’re all moving in the same direction,” Marston said of the effort to deter crime on Grand Island.

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