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Buffalo police chief discusses how law enforcement has changed as city has changed

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

As downtown Buffalo has evolved in recent years, so too has the way Buffalo Police do their job to keep streets and people safe. The chief of the Police Department's downtown B District shared some of his thoughts at a guest appearance inside the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library central branch on Wednesday.

Chief Joseph Gramaglia, who now leads the Downtown B District, has more than 20 years experience including homicide investigation. He was the guest speaker inside the downtown library, which hosted Working For Downtown's monthly "Buffalo Talks" series. Gramaglia discussed how policing has changed as downtown has changed.

Among the most significant changes is, when dealing with community policing and crime prevention, to move away from reactive work to proactive work, addressing not only the crime itself but the conditions surrounding it.

"There's an old adage in policing that you can't arrest your way out of problems," Gramaglia said. "That's the old way of doing things. You can't just throw handcuffs on someone, throw them in jail and expect to fix the problem. It's going to fix it for tonight, tomorrow or until they get out again. We have to look beyond that, and that's what intelligence-based policing does."

It includes following data to discover trends and act accordingly.

"We have analysts that look over all the crime reports that come in. All the calls," Chief Gramaglia explained. "We meet weekly and sometimes more than that, and the chiefs of the districts are in constant communication with several of these analysts."

Also involved is partnerships with private interests such as businesses and community interests such as human service agencies and block clubs. Gramaglia told his audience of how one local company provided the funding to purchase high-end bicycles for use in patrols, and how police partnered with one local not-for-profit organization to assist homeless individuals who had become crime victims while trying to sleep on the streets.

Officers, he explained, have also reached out and made direct contact with some of the troublemakers.

"We're going to knock on their door. We're going to bother them. We're going to have a talk with them," he explained. "We did that in certain cases. One guy in particular, who was kind of being a pain, I gave him a personal escort. I assigned two of my more aggressive nighttime officers to become best friends with him. And that's what they did. And he stopped being a problem."

The crime rate in Buffalo over the past ten years, according to Chief Gramaglia, has decreased by about 30 percent. Calls requesting police services, though, have gone up. In 2006, Buffalo Police responded to approximately 72,000 calls, for both criminal and non-criminal assistance. In 2015, that number jumped to more than 61,000 calls. Last year, the total exceeded 85,000 calls.

Downtown Buffalo has changed over the years, with the redevelopment of neighborhoods including Allentown, Chippewa Street and Canalside. Those redevelopments, and the people they are attracting, are keeping the officers of B District busier. But the chief is not complaining.

"For me, the calls for service going up, I don't think that's a bad thing. I think that just means there's more people coming down here now," he said. "That's a natural by-product. As long as the crime numbers continue to do what they're doing, and I see no reason why they shouldn't, we're out there working with everybody."

Joseph Gramaglia, Chief of the Buffalo Police Department's Downtown B District, speaks inside the Buffalo & Erie County Library Central Branch on Wednesday about changes in how police do their work downtown. (Note: Due to a technical problem during recording, there is a brief interruption at 8:45 of the file.)

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.