Chris’s Corner: Public Safety Via Facebook

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Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Council member and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com.

 

By: Chris Voccio

Niagara Falls City Councilman

I just love Facebook. I use it personally, posting photos of ice cream and my dog and God’s wondrous natural settings, and I also use it in my capacity as a public official, posting things that people may be interested in.

Sometimes, someone will ask me, in a Facebook comment, often in a demanding tone, about a complex issue. For instance, I was recently asked what my solution to our crime problem was.

The comments section of Facebook is simply not the place for long, elaborate discussions on complicated issues, so I’ll often suggest to the questioner that we meet to have a healthy discussion on the topic. They almost always refuse.

It’s so much simpler to make snide comments on social media than have an informed discussion in person.

The criminal activity that occurred in our city recently is unacceptable. We all agree on that. But what we should do about it fosters less agreement.

The mayor proposed that the Council appropriate $50,000 in casino money for police overtime. It’s tempting, especially in a Facebook comment, to imply this would be a good move. But it’s much more complicated than that.

The casino money was intended for infrastructure and economic development. It was intended to allow us to rebuild our city. When people criticize the past use of casino revenues, asking what we have to show for the casino money that we’ve spent ($250 million), the monies were used for things just like the mayor is proposing. Things that disappear into the budget with no visible progress to point to. (This item was voted on by the Council on Tuesday, April 30th. The vote was 4-1 in favor of spending the casino money for police overtime.)

To make matters more complicated, the dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the State of New York is still in flux. The idea that we would continue to dip into the well of casino money during this dispute is in itself troubling. But even if the dispute were settled, to the State’s favor, there’s still the serious issue of what we should be investing casino money in. 

Should we invest casino revenue into our infrastructure and into economic development projects that enhance our tax base, or should we pour it into our budget, as we have for years?

Money aside, there are things that can be done to make our city safer.

As my colleague Councilman Kenny Tompkins pointed out in a recent Niagara Gazette column, there are police officers doing administrative work and things like parking meter monitoring, things that could be done by civilians. Those armed police officers could be deployed on the streets, fighting crime.

Another more controversial thing we could do would be to assemble a volunteer corps of retired police officers to help keep our streets safe. 

We also have outside law enforcement agencies willing to help us, but bringing them in to supplement our own police force has complications. Complications related to unions.

As I’ve said in previous columns, we need to fully support our police officers in their mission of public safety, but they, acting through their two unions (one for front-line officers, and one for the brass), need to recognize the city is in financial trouble and they need to help us maintain safety and public order while living within our means.

Making things even more complex, there are a multitude of Constitutional and legal issues that prevent us from doing many of the things you see suggested on Facebook.

So the next time you hear about criminal activity in the Falls, know that while it’s easy to solve the crime problem on social media, it’s much more difficult to solve the crime problem on the streets.

If you’d like to learn first-hand how complex this issue is, sit down with a public official or a police officer and discuss the matter in person.

But it won’t be as fun as taking potshots on Facebook.

 

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