City launches latest GIVE initiative to end gun violence

July 22 – It didn’t take long for the new version of New York’s GIVE (Gun Involved Violence Elimination) program to hit the streets of the Falls.

Just moments after a group of city, county, state and federal law enforcement officers drove away from Falls police headquarters on Saturday night, radio waves crackled with the cries of NFPD Narcotics Intelligence Division detectives chasing a man they had encountered outside a hotspot of gun violence.

Detectives had stopped at the corner of Ashland Avenue and 19th Street, at the location of a business known on the street as the “Ashland store”. Thirty minutes earlier, during a briefing conducted by analysts from the Niagara Intelligence and Crime Analysis Center (NICAC), detectives had viewed a series of maps that identified areas of the falls with the highest density of gun-related incidents.

One of these maps centered on the “Ashland store”.

“Hot spots are areas where we have confirmed gunshots, gunshots have been reported,” Falls Police Det. Marsha Gee, the city’s chief intelligence investigator, told officers and officers during the briefing. “So if you could focus on the hotspots, like the 19th and Ashland, Pine and 20th and Fourth Street and Niagara areas, that would be good.”

When the city’s narcotics detectives arrived at the “Ashland store”, they spotted a group of young men along the Ashland Avenue side of the business, rolling dice. They got out of their unmarked patrol vehicle and approached the group to talk to them.

One of the men, later identified as a 23-year-old Falls resident, ran away. Detectives gave chase.

During the foot chase, detectives said the man, who himself was the victim of a shooting in April in the city’s market district, appeared to throw an object. They caught up with him hiding under the back porch of a house in the 2000 block of LaSalle Avenue.

A search that included a K-9 unit from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office failed to locate what he might have thrown away. The suspect was charged with vagrancy, resisting arrest and second degree obstruction of government administration.

Falls Police Capt. Nicholas Ligammari, who administers this latest version of the GIVE program, described it as “a multi-agency, evidence-based enforcement program.”

“All of this will now be data-driven,” Ligammari said.

The New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which funds GIVE, describes it as “a key part of New York State’s shooting and homicide reduction strategy.” The program, now in its 10th year, focuses on four core elements which the DCJS says are people, places, alignment and engagement.

In a description of the program, DCJS said GIVE “targets prevention and enforcement efforts at primary offenders who have been identified as being responsible for most shootings and homicides or aggravated assaults.” The program is designed to focus “prevention and law enforcement efforts on geographic locations (hotspots) where crime data and analysis demonstrates that most shootings and homicides or aggravated assaults occur.”

In addition to prevention and law enforcement, GIVE also requires law enforcement agencies to “coordinate and align all existing resources in the community with the goal of reducing shootings and homicides or aggravated assaults and it requires an engagement strategy with “key stakeholders and the community as a whole.”

Statewide in 2023, the program is providing $36.2 million to 28 police departments, district attorney’s offices, probation departments and sheriff’s offices in the 21 counties outside of New York that have been hardest hit by gun violence and violent crime. This funding is the highest level in the program’s history.

The 2023 funding for Niagara County totaled $2.18 million. The bulk of the money, more than $1.24 million, was allocated to the Falls Police Department. The remainder was split between the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, and Niagara County Probation.

“Gun violence continues to impact cities across New York State,” Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said. “Our city appreciates Governor (Kathy) Hochul’s commitment to addressing this issue. This funding will allow our Niagara Falls Police Department to step up its efforts to remove illegal guns from our streets and continue to fight gun violence in our city.

Because the program is evidence and data-based, it requires regular reporting of the number of gunshot incidents, gunshot victims and homicide victims in GIVE jurisdictions. From January to May, the Falls had seven shooting incidents involving injuries, a reduction of more than 50% from the same period in 2022.

The number of people hit by gunshots has also fallen by more than 50%, from 17 to 8 so far this year. Homicides involving firearms fell from 3 in the first five months of last year to 2 this year

GIVE jurisdictions are required to use a policing framework known as problem-based policing (POP). The DCJS says the key elements of POP are hot spot policing, targeted deterrence, street outreach and a concept called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

Crime prevention through environmental design examines how the design of buildings, landscaping, and outdoor environments can encourage or deter crime. Falls Cops called the concept a “potential game changer” in crime prevention.

Pointing to the “Ashland store,” Falls Police Assistant Superintendent Mike Lee said adding more street lighting and trimming trees, which overlook an empty lot next door, would improve the area’s visibility to officers and make it a less inviting environment for crime.

NICAC analysts joined street operatives as they moved through the city, observing, in real time, how their analytics helped conduct that night’s prevention and law enforcement patrols. Shortly after the foot chase, the police radio crackled again.

This time, a patrol unit was in pursuit of a vehicle that had strayed from a traffic stop not far from the 19th Street crime corridor. Officers eventually stopped the vehicle in an alley off the 2200 block of Falls Street.

The driver, identified as Sean Kent, 30, of the falls, fled on foot but was captured after a brief chase. Inside his vehicle, officers found a loaded handgun with the serial number erased.

Kent was charged with second and third degree criminal possession of a weapon, unlawfully fleeing a police officer and resisting arrest. Falls police supervisors called the weapons seizure an example of how GIVE can work.

As nearby residents gathered near the scene of the arrest and seizure of weapons, one of them asked an officer how long the additional police presence would last.

“It comes all summer,” the officer replied.

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