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Poloncarz issues executive order declaring gun violence in Erie County a public health crisis

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Posted at 1:11 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:49:06-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued an executive order Tuesday declaring gun violence in Erie County a public health crisis.

Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Legislature Chair April Baskin, members of the Legislature’s Majority Caucus, members of the Erie County District Attorney’s office, and several Erie County Commissioners.

According to county officials, data from the Erie County Crime Analysis Center shows that homicides in the county have increased the past four years.

  • 46 in 2017
  • 58 in 2018
  • 59 in 2019
  • 69 in 2020

Officials say the majority of those homicides were through the use of a firearm and as of July 14, 2021 44 of the 49 homicides committed in Erie County used a firearm.

According to county officials, data from New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services for 2020 shows Erie County led all other counties in the state in violent crimes committed with a firearm per capita (130.7 per 100,000 of population) and was more than double the state average (57.4 per 100,000 of population).

"The statistics with regard to the increase in violent crimes in Erie County and homicides is sad," Mark Poloncarz said.

The Erie County executive issued a call to action on Tuesday, declaring gun violence a public health crisis in the county.

"Just because we take action does not mean we'll prevent all future crime but by not taking action would be shame on us," Poloncarz said.

The declaration plans to implement change in things like increasing funding to programs designed to reduce gun-violence, work with local law enforcement agencies to create strategies to reduce illegal firearms in the county, and work with marginalized populations to provide education regarding gun violence.

"There were 46 individuals who died in a homicide in 2017. There were 16 in 2020, and on July 14th, there was 49 homicides. Forty-four of which were with a gun," the county executive explained.

The grim toll of this escalating violence is very real for Erie County legislature chair, April Baskin, who said she lost her cousin to gun violence only four months ago.

"It's been devastating for my family. He left behind a child who now has no parents because her mother had passed away from sickness when she (daughter) was a child," Erie County legislature chair April Baskin said.

For Baskin and others they believe this is a first step.

"So, it's not just funding to agencies. It's not just working together, but it's doing all of those things and holding each other accountable to outcomes," Baskin said. "This is not just a headline for today. This is Erie County declaring something that is a public crisis. This is something that is serious. Something that we are going to tackle. Something that we are going to fund. Something that we are going to prioritize, but most importantly, something that we are going to produce positive outcomes from."

However, others believe this is also one that needs to be echoed on a grass-roots level.

"It's also an aspect of an economic consequence that we have to do better by each other. If you own a business, hire other people, give people a living wage. There is an economic component to this that is about depression and about family discord. There's gun violence with regard to domestic violence, there's gun violence with regard to mental health issues," Erie County legislator Jeanne Vinal said.

The full proclamation can be viewed below.

We all have a role to play and a responsibility to keep our communities as safe as possible and do whatever we can to end the scourge of gun violence that is plaguing Erie County. Too many lives have been tragically ended or forever traumatically changed when a firearm has been used, whether in a homicide or suicide, and as a community we need to step up to protect our families, children and loved ones. This Executive Order is both a recognition of the crisis we are facing and a call for community action to address it. The cost of inaction is too high. I thank Legislature Chair Baskin and the Majority caucus for their support along with Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. Let’s get to work on creating a safer, healthier community.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz

The executive order that was issued can be found here and directs the Commissioners of Central Police Services, Probation, Health, Mental Health, and Social Services to form a task force to work with local law enforcement and community organizations to prepare programs an initiatives that:

(a) decrease gun violence among youth; (b) increase funding to the programs specific to reducing gun-violence; (c) work with local law enforcement agencies to create strategies to reduce the amount of illegal firearms in Erie County; (d) work with marginalized populations to provide education on gun violence, issues and solutions; (e) advocate for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color; and (f) support local, State, and Federal programs that advance anti-gun violence initiatives.

As part of the executive order the Commissioner of Probation has been directed to increase the number of monthly home visits performed by probation officers with probationers who are at high-risk of involvement with guns and violence.

The Commissioner of the Department of Social Services has also been directed to:

(1) expedite the investment of the additional $530,727 received by Erie County from New York State for additional summer youth employment opportunities, under the new age and geographic residence restrictions provided by New York State, thereby making more at-risk youth and young adults eligible for the program, and to work with local anti-violence organizations and leaders to identify at-risk youth and young adults for the initiative; and (2) following placement of at-risk young adults into temporary employment opportunities as described above, work to transition said young adults into permanent employment opportunities using the Department of Social Services’ Placing Individuals in Vital Opportunity Training (“PIVOT”) program.