December 6, Jericho Road Community Health Center hosted its second West Side Safety Task Force Meeting to address the wave of burglaries that have taken place amongst refugees living throughout the West Side.
The meeting provided an opportunity for residents and advocates to voice their general concerns to the Buffalo Police Department (BPD), as the Buffalo’s ‘B’ District Police Chief Brian K. Patterson and the BPD Lieutenant of Community Policing Steven Nichols were both able to answer questions and offer their reactions to the events.
In fact, local refugees and advocates called into question the responses of the police to their problems. One woman who had assisted another victim, said that person experienced little follow up from police.
“A person a month or so ago got robbed and they reported it. Now, they tell me, the police didn’t do anything for them, the burglars got gold and money.” She said.
Following another similar question, Chief Patterson wrote “the Police Do Nothing” on a dry erase board, and said, “I want to address this.”
According to Patterson, an average of only 4 of every 40 burglaries per month is solved throughout his district, but noted, “Solving the crime of burglary is not easy. It’s not like on TV.”
Chief Patterson specified that only through evidence, eye witnesses, and police patrols were police able to apprehend criminals. “The police cannot do everything…It’s going to take us to solve the crimes,” he said. But, advocates and the police seemed to agree that reporting crimes was the most important way to take action on the crimes.
Lisa Strand, the Joint Chief Attorney at the Legal Aid of Buffalo, offered her willingness to provide confidential consultation to potential witnesses: “If you know one of the young people who are doing these burglaries, and you’re afraid everyone will get mad at them or they’ll get hurt, but you want to strategize or discuss things that you might be able to do, that’s something I would be willing to do,” she said.
Overall, the community’s mistrust of the police and language barriers were identified as potential obstacles. Addressing the issue, Lt. Nichols stated that two community police officers per district were assigned to work with communities, “like family doctors,” who established personal ties to help ease fears and address issues.
Jessica M. Lazarin, director of the Mayor’s Office of New Americans, also said that informational workshops regarding policing and the basic criminal justice system had been held in other languages, upon request.
According to Chief Patterson, these obstacles would ultimately be overcome through a model of assigning community leaders to various neighborhoods. Through this model, fearful refugee victims could report to these leaders—in their native language—who could then report incidents to the police.
Another meeting was scheduled for Saturday, December 12th, to allow the designated community leaders and members of the BPD to further address the issue.
Last Saturday’s meeting was the second such meeting, in response to the spate of burglaries that have taken place in the recent months. According to Jericho Road, the Karen community alone experienced approximately 70 break-ins between October and late November of this year.
The police offered only speculation regarding the identity of the burglars, but said that they may have been other refugees, and/or minors who were not in school.
One of Jericho Road’s presenters—pharmacist Patricia J. “P.J.” Pitts—said that she believes newly arrived refugees were being targeted: “The people who are doing the break ins think it’s easier to break into refugees’ homes. That maybe there’s nobody in the community to watch out what’s going on. They think people aren’t sure how to use some of the locks.”
The meeting also offered a number of safety tips, and culminated with an agreement on a petition that would demand greater action by the police, on behalf of refugee victims.