Members of most communities are concerned with a rise in criminal activity, whatever the cause.
Shootings, robberies and home break-ins are among the crimes which have most residents concerned and no one knows that better than city of Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano. Ortolano has been a Dunkirk police officer since 1985 and was appointed chief in 2005.
Ortolano recently released the department's 2013 Annual Report and was asked about the more serious crimes in the city, which fortunately did not include any murders.
"We had a couple incidents where we've had people that were shot. Whether it be assault in the first degree, probably the most serious offenses that we face, we have had quite a few assault cases. We've had a couple stabbings. We had a couple armed robberies so those type of offenses are the more serious ones," he replied. "Those are the offenses that raise, and I understand 100 percent, those are what make a community on edge. Those type of crimes are what will put the community on edge and make them not feel safe.
"But the majority of those kind of crimes, when we investigate those, we find that the shooting that we deal with or the felony assaults, are not random. They're because somebody was upset with someone, or somebody owed someone and they didn't pay them back."
Ortolano added some cases are tough to make because victims say "they'll take care of it themselves."
"We had a shooting last year where someone got shot in the leg and he didn't want to tell us what happened or talk to us. He was going to take care of it himself," he explained. "Thankfully, we were able to talk him into cooperating with us and not with the other people, and we were able to make an arrest. A lot of times it's tough now to get people to talk to you and tell you things."
As for one type of calls police can't win, domestic violence-related calls, Ortolano said that type keeps going up. An old-fashioned winter plaguing the city and area doesn't help.
"I guess with the cold weather they stay inside and get on each other's nerves. They can't handle each other and the hard part of dealing with that is those are the calls that are probably the most dangerous to our people. Walking into a domestic dispute where they hate each other, as soon as you walk in, they both hate us," the chief explained. "We try to stay in the middle and do the best we can, especially with the mandated offenses we have to make arrests on. We don't have choice by law if we see something happening, or if we know someone was assaulted or choked or something, that is a mandated arrest. We don't have a choice, they're gone and we do it. We err to that side because we sure as heck aren't going to leave someone there and have them re-offend and hurt somebody more."
While cell phones and driving while texting did not have exact numbers, the chief said the city has received extra funding from the state for more enforcement. Ortolano added that covers school zones and incorporates what used to be the Buckle Up NY program.
"They're both dangerous, but texting is more dangerous than talking. I don't want to downplay that talking on a cell phone is not dangerous, but to me if someone has a cell phone to their ear, normally they're still looking straight ahead," he explained. "If someone is texting, you've got to use sometimes both hands, or at least be looking down to make sure what you're texting or what your thumb is doing is what you want to be sent in your message. They're both dangerous, but texting is definitely the most dangerous of the two."
There is one important thing city residents can do to help, and Ortolano said that was people getting involved in helping police with information in a timely manner.
"We've had several cases last year, a couple of burglary cases, the majority of our narcotics cases, are from people coming forward and giving us information. Don't draw your blinds and act like it's not happening. Call us, get involved," the chief stated. "Be willing to step up and make a difference in the community because that's what's making a difference, especially in our narcotic enforcement, burglaries, house entries. That's how we solve those house entries because people come forward and say I saw this, or I saw that guy, or I saw this car leaving the area. It may lead us to something, it may not, but a lot of times it gives us the information we need to keep taking those steps in the investigation to solve these crimes that are unsettling to the community."
The chief's final comment was for his officers.
"I tip my hat to all of the men and women of this department. They are out there every single day doing a great job keeping the community safe and we're always striving to make the community a better and safer place," he stated. "We're hoping to do anything we can do to make that happen."
The desk number for the department is 366-2266. The number for the confidential tip line is 363-0313.
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