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Sweating the small stuff helps cut city crime

   Self-help gurus have long argued that life is happier when we don't sweat the small stuff.

   But an experiment launched by the Buffalo Police Department is leading many to conclude that when officers crack down on minor offenses, bigger problems don't occur as often.

   Call it Buffalo's version of the broken windows mantra. Fix the little things in neighborhoods, and you spend less time in the long run coping with more severe troubles.

   Two officers in the Northeast District have been spending their time writing summonses for things like excessive noise, high grass, debris and other quality-of-life issues. Ever since the special squad intensified its efforts, most types of major crime have dropped by double-digit levels.

   Mayor Byron W. Brown wants to launch quality-of-life squads in all five police districts, a plan that is being hailed by some community activists and lawmakers.

   What do you think? Would this kind of citywide crusade really deter serious crime? Is it a wise use of resources in a Police Department that some believe will remain short-staffed even after a new class of officers hits the streets? What if the citywide quality-of-life blitz means higher overtime costs? Would it be worth it?

  -- Brian Meyer


End game for a political litmus test

  WASHINGTON -- OK, now that Scrabulous has been scrapped by Facebook, I've
come up with an even better game.

   Let's call it  ... "Goodling!"

   And in it, you all get to answer the questions that Monica Goodling, the disgraced Republican appointee who commandeered the hiring of supposedly nonpartisan federal prosecutors, asked the job candidates she interviewed.

   So please, go ahead and answer the following questions:

   "Why are you a Republican?"

   "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"


   "Aside from the president, give us an example of someone currently or recently in public service who you admire."

   Sadly, I haven't figured out how to declare a winner in this game, but I am sure you will have fun playing, nevertheless.

-- Jerry Zremski

Legislative resolve faces Aug. 19 showdown

   That New York is facing a budget problem is hardly a secret.

   When lawmakers voted for the 2008 state budget in April, they did so knowing the state was already facing a $5 billion deficit in 2009. And a sizable portion of that deficit was caused by spending promises they made now for next year.

   That the deficit has only grown since then -- as Gov. David A. Paterson revealed Tuesday -- should be even of less surprise to lawmakers.

   Now, Paterson is shaming the Legislature back to Albany to act during a special session on Aug. 19.

   Over the past week, the governor has said legislators don't get what New Yorkers already know -- that the state's economy is in real trouble.

   Talk of coming back to Albany  just a couple months before election day does not sit well with lawmakers.

   Will anything real happen on Aug. 19?

   That depends, many Albany insiders would say, on the definition of "real."

-- Tom Precious

Playing politics with key federal appointments

   WASHINGTON -- The federal legal system is designed to stop politics at the courthouse door -- but the Bush administration seems to have broken that door down.

   That's the unmistakeable conclusion of a 140-page report, issued Monday by the Justice Department's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility, that lambasted Bush Justice Department appointees for allowing political considerations to trump skill and experience in appointments to key
career posts.

   And two of the good lawyers who got trumped are from Western New York.

   Believe it or not, Monica Goodling, the Justice Department aide with the most appointment power, looked at William J. Hochul not as the award-winning prosecutor of the Lackawanna Six -- but as the husband of Kathy Hochul, a longtime Democratic activist who now serves as Erie County clerk.

   And Goodling looked at John Kelly, a federal prosecutor from Rochester, not as Michael A. Battle's handpicked top aide at the office that oversaw U.S. attorneys -- but as a "political infant" who hadn't done enough for the Republican Party.

   Worse yet, Hochul was applying for a counterterrorism job in Washington -- and Goodling decided we'd all be better off giving the post to a Republican with no counterterrorism experience whatsoever.

   And remember, this was the administration that was supposed to be getting tough on terror.

   So does any of this make you feel any safer?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Drilling dilemma

    Guess how many natural gas wells there are in Lake Erie.

   If you guessed 480, you are correct. Read my story here.

   And guess how many are on the American side.

   The answer? None.

   Now Lake Erie is not exactly the outer continental shelf when it comes to untapped energy resources. But it is curious that while environmental concerns have trumped any possibility of natural gas drilling on the American side, a Canadian company extracts enough energy from the lake to fuel a city of 40,000.

   So who's taking the right approach … America, or Canada?

… Jerry Zremski

More bad news in Wilson

   A 19-year-old apparently distraught over his relationship with his girlfriend shot and killed her Saturday morning, then took his own life.

   Family and friends of Shawn R. Wolf of Ransomville were aware of "issues" in his relationship with Kari A. Gorman, as reported in today's Buffalo News.

   The two had dated for eight months and attended their senior prom together.

   Wolf's mother found Gorman's 18-year-old body on her son's bedroom floor. She called 911 at 8:58 a.m., telling the operator she woke up hearing an argument.

   About 14 minutes later, police spotted Wolf's car parked at a Youngstown cemetery. Then they found his body. He had apparently taken a shotgun to his own head.

   A handwritten note, indicating "that there was strife in the relationship," was found at Wolf's home.

      — Aaron Besecker

Stemming the tide of violence

   Violence is far too common in the lives of many young Buffalo residents on the East Side and lower West Side, particularly young people of color.

   Reporter Peter Simon spoke with 10 teenagers who shared their bleak worlds, including a girl who is living with a bullet in her leg. She was shot at her graduation party.

   But what can be done about it?

   Darius Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church who is a devoted activist for his community, has one answer.

   His church organizes trips in which he takes African American teenagers, many who have never been outside of Buffalo, to black colleges and universities.

   "They are amazed to see people of color with nice houses and cars, and who don't have to be doing drugs or doing wrong," Pridgen said. "When young people haven't been exposed to anything else, and when the generation that raised them has lost hope, what is there for that generation?"

   What are your suggestions for ending the violence in our neighborhoods?


   There's the homeowner who wanted a video surveillance camera so that he could see if his lawn service had come to cut his grass while he was out of town.

   There's the metal-fabricating company that turned to cameras because officials there noticed a spike in thefts of copper and other scrap metal.

   And there are the scores of schools, libraries, police departments and government agencies that are installing cameras in an effort to improve public safety.

   For these and many other reasons, cameras are rapidly sprouting up in this nation's public and private spaces. It's hard for the typical person to go a full day without ending up in camera range somewhere.

   Government officials, the companies that install these cameras and the customers who bought them say the cameras are a valuable crime-prevention tool.

   But privacy advocates say too many cameras are being installed with too little control over where they are, how they are used and how the recorded images are saved.

   They also point to studies that question whether cameras actually reduce crime, or whether they just displace it to the nearest unwatched corner.

   As Buffalo and other local municipalities add more cameras each year, these are key questions to consider.

   Do you see the proliferation of surveillance cameras as an invasion of your privacy? Or do you think they are reasonable and effective public-safety tools?

   --- Stephen T. Watson

A prescription needed for fewer meds?

   A recent national study determined that for the first time, 51 percent of all insured American children and adults are taking one or more prescription drugs regularly for a chronic condition.

   The most widely used drugs are those that lower high blood pressure and cholesterol - problems often linked to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

   Medco Health Solutions, which manages prescription benefits for about one in five Americans, gathered the numbers last year. The company sampled 2.5 million customers, from newborns to the elderly and medication use was seen in:

• Almost two-thirds of women 20 and older.

•  One in four children and teenagers.

•  More than half of adult men.

• Three out of four people 65 and older.

   Do you think Americans are over-medicated?

   What steps have you taken to get off prescription medications?

   --- Deidre Williams

Resolution to Wilson hazing case put on the table

   Prosecutors have offered the teenage defendants in the Wilson hazing case a chance to dodge the weight of the initial charges stemming from an April 17 incident on a team bus.

    As reported in today's Buffalo News, the deal would allow the teens to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of forcible touching, which carries a lesser punishment than the felony sexual abuse count each had been facing.

   Also as part of the offer, each would plead guilty to three counts of second-degree hazing, a violation.

   Kevin P. Shelby, an attorney for one of the 16-year-olds, likened what happened on that bus to a fraternity initiation, and which also lacked any sexual overtones.

   There were at least 30 people on the bus at the time of the incident, Shelby said, and the DA's office has not produced medical evidence suggesting any object, including a cell phone, was used to penetrate the body opening of anyone on the bus as alleged.

   And because of that, and the fact that the deal offers no guarantee that youthful offender status will be granted, he claims his client deserves fairer treatment.

   "Should conduct such as this that does not have sexual overtones, that involves initiation rights, should that impact on a 16-year-old's life for the rest of his life?" he said.

   What do you think of the offer made by the DA's office?

   — Aaron Besecker

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