Speakers, officials put focus on public safety
ROME — As city councilors voiced their dismay over additional manpower and resources for Rome Police not being included in the mayor’s proposed $48.9 million 2023 budget, community members also expressed worries of growing criminal activity within the city during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting.
In response, Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said Thursday that the problem isn’t lack of manpower, but is mainly due to the state’s bail reform and the inability of law enforcement to keep repeated offenders off the streets.
Dennis Perfetti, 511 Wellesley Road, said that criminal activity is getting worse in the city with recent break-ins and robberies of local businesses, including his son’s two businesses — Bill’s Variety and Liquor Express on West Thomas Street. Perfetti spoke before the Common Council during the public comment portion of the council meeting.
“A crime spree has engulfed our city over the last month-and-a-half to two months, the worse I’ve witnessed in my 61 years living in Rome,” said Perfetti. “My son owns Liquor Express and Bill’s Variety, and getting robbed seems to be the common thing. It happened three times this month alone, with the first being for two bottles of booze, and then papers, and then someone took a hammer to the front glass” of the business “and busted it.”
Perfetti also noted an elderly woman recently having her purse stolen by teenagers while in the Transfiguration Church parking lot, and cases where local smoke shops and other businesses have had glass doors and windows broken out, which has included the Capitol Theatre complex.
“You get numerous names associated with these crimes, but according to police, that’s not enough evidence,” said Perfetti. “It seems this administration doesn’t have control and it’s sickening.”
As for the toll these crimes are having on local business, “This isn’t Cliff’s or Nice N’ Easy, Walmart or Walgreens” or other big-box businesses “that we’re talking about, it’s money my 24-year-old son has saved to help revitalize businesses in the city and he does it all the right way,” said Perfetti. “Every time we make a complaint we’re told to keep quiet, so what’s the answer?”
Perfetti then requested a meeting with Police Chief David Collins, Mayor Izzo and other city officials, as he said his phone calls and visits have not been returned or acknowledged.
“... I don’t want anyone to hide behind bail reform — I know you need to let 90% of these people go, but something needs to be done,” he added.
Rome Free Academy student Aidan Goldman, who has helped spearhead a program to relocate refugees to Rome and provide them with needed services, said crime issues in certain areas of the city are forcing his program to look elsewhere when placing refugees.
“I’m director of Rome Refugee Services, working with state government to relocate Dominican Republic citizens here. We help find them housing and employment, and they have a good impact on housing and jobs,” Goldman explained. “I go to Rome schools and have friends living in the 400 block of W. Thomas St., and there’s gang activity there every night — I don’t feel safe. I’ve had ($200) shoes and a bike stolen from there, and the house has been robbed three times. It’s completely out of hand, and something needs to be done.”
Goldman noted that the Rome Police Viper armored surveillance vehicle has been seen in the neighborhood, but it’s not enough.
“I and others don’t feel safe, and we don’t feel comfortable resettling refugees in that area,” Goldman said. He also referenced concerns of a suspicious white van that has been consistently seen and reported in several neighborhoods of North Rome.
During councilor reports, First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace told Perfetti he and members of the Public Safety Committee would meet with him and any other concerned business owners.
“As for the crime issue, every one of us here feels your frustration because it’s really bad ... you never had to worry about going outside and now an 83-year-old woman has been mugged in my ward,” said Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers. “This woman goes to Mass and comes out to have her purse stolen and to be terrorized. It’s unacceptable and it’s really becoming more common than not, which is obviously very concerning. We need to have meetings and bring people together.”
Rogers noted that in her ward alone, there had previously been four neighborhood watch groups and said she believes it’s time to re-start community policing groups.
“You have to lock your car and your door, because otherwise it’s an invitation to a criminal,” Rogers said. “The council tonight had a work session with the police department to make sure they have the tools they need (in the budget). We don’t believe the police department wants that (crime happening) either.”
As for comments made about North Rome, “It’s concerning that we have crime in any district,” said the Third Ward councilor. “It’s not acceptable when people are property owners who work hard — the rules should be the same and no one should tolerate not being able to enjoy their own property, no matter where you live in the city.”
In response to comments made during the Common Council meeting, Izzo said Thursday that councilors met with Rome Police Deputy Chief Cheyenne D. Schoff and Capt. Bryan M. Zoeckler for the department’s budget review on Wednesday, where they were asked if the department needed anything else in the proposed budget. The mayor said the officers’ response was that they “had all the resources necessary.”
“Unfortunately what this boils down to, and people don’t want to listen to this answer, are the consequences of bail reform in Albany,” Izzo said. “You can’t hold an offender now for anything less than a class E felony, and even then you need to look at the charges carefully because many things don’t qualify. There are also many offenses that were felonies before that are now misdemeanors, and officers can’t hold on misdemeanors anymore. Our officers are aggravated because before the ink is even dry on the paperwork, these people are back on the streets and they’ve already been arrested 2, 3, 4 times, especially burglars, before they’re ever remanded.”
The mayor said the police force now has body cameras, the latest in crime fighting technology available, and that the city already invests in resources and equipment for the fire department and Codes Enforcement Office as well.
“Our officers are on top of the crimes, but they can’t hold people — it’s no different than what’s going on in New York City,” said Izzo. “It’s not a question of ignoring public safety, in fact, we have three positions open now for the police department, and we can’t find candidates. Unfortunately in this state, police have taken an awful beating in the public eye and people see them as they should’ve been defunded, and that it’s a dishonorable profession. That’s very wrong and very upsetting, and we’re living the consequences of the defunding the police movement. But worse than that, is bail reform.”
The mayor urged local residents to contact Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office directly and make complaints because it’s the governor who “holds all the cards to make quick changes to the bail reform laws.”
Izzo said, “The changes made during the state budget (process) made very little difference — we need real reform. If you do the crime, then you need to do the time.”
In other comments:
• Anne Sullivan, of 418 Floyd Ave., said work trucks parking on Cottage Avenue partially blocking driveways. She was also looking for a follow-up on re-painting the crosswalk on Floyd Avenue and having some kind of “blinking yellow signs” to slow and stop traffic as several vehicles travel through the crosswalk without stopping for pedestrians. She suggested a traffic study be conducted in the area. Sullivan also complained about garbage service coming to her neighborhood on Fridays and not returning until Saturday to pick up recyclables.
Rogers said the city had eliminated it’s own striping vehicle so it’s contracting with the county for the painting. However, “We’ve seen a failure to keep up with the work that needs to be done...But there is a concreted effort to catch up and make re-painting part of the process” when repairing streets, she said.
As for garbage pickup, Rogers noted that the city was notified that Controlled Waste Systems, Inc. of Utica does not have enough trucks to run the full route and therefore they need to return for recyclables. But the councilor emphasized that she has publicly expressed her displeasure about service provided by CWSI on several occasions.
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