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Lockport scrambling to assemble traffic-control unit before summer season

Lockport scrambling to assemble traffic-control unit before summer season

by Joseph KisselMarch 30, 2017

The recent disbanding of Niagara County’s Auxiliary Police force has left many towns and the City of Lockport suddenly anxious about the summer season of parades and city functions that draw large crowds, shut down streets and disrupt traffic.

That’s because the county auxiliary unit handled traffic and crowd-control duties that otherwise would be left to the police department.

“We are not going to staff any more events with overtime from the police department,” said Alderman Rick Abbot, who is the council’s representative on the police board. “We are looking for people to take ownership of this.”

Lockport Police Chief Mike Niethe came to city hall’s council chambers Wednesday evening to discuss forming a volunteer traffic-control unit that would provide support at barricades where city streets are blocked off.

The volunteers — who would receive a shirt reading “Lockport Traffic Control” — would number about 10 to 12, Niethe said, with five or six needed for each event. There were several interested residents in the audience who received applications.

“It does not mean you’re automatically accepted,” Niethe said. “We will do a quick vetting, and we’d prefer it if people had a driver’s license.”

Members of the group would be expected to serve at three or four events during the summer.

A former member of the now-disbanded county auxiliary unit, Heather Grimmer, said drivers delayed by a parade or other event can become irate and even dangerous.

County auxiliary police officers performing traffic control duties wore bullet proof vests to protect them from being hit by a speeding vehicle’s rear-view mirror, she said.

“I think it’s a well-intentioned plan, but I don’t think they understand the depth of what we did and what we faced,” Grimmer said.

“What authority do these volunteers have to direct traffic? Even when we are in full uniforms we still had people who didn’t want to listen to us. What about someone with less training? People are less apt to pay attention to volunteers when they don’t have to listen to them. A police officer has that authority.”

Abbot emphasized the limited nature of the unit’s responsibilities. Neithe said training for the volunteers would be provided by some of the former auxiliary police.

Grimmer said, though, that none of the former officers will be participating in the city’s traffic-control unit, citing safety concerns.

After the meeting, however, Grimmer further discussed the safety concerns with Mayor Anne McCaffrey and is hopeful “it can help shape other options or proposals.”

The Memorial Day parade on May 29 is the first date for which the City of Lockport will need to provide traffic control. There are several major events during the summer, including the Fourth of July fireworks as well as car cruise nights and running races. Another fireworks display will take place July 8, when the Albany Symphony Orchestra performs on a barge along the Erie Canal.

Neithe said applicants should come to police headquarters during the day to receive an application from him.

The City of Lockport is not alone in dealing with this issue as the towns of Niagara and Lewiston also relied on the disbanded auxiliary police unit.

Events that block off streets — like the Tacky Sweater Run in December — will require traffic control from the city. There is no estimated cost currently as to how much it would cost the city if it’s unable to assemble a volunteer traffic-control unit. “We’re expecting this to work,” said Mayor McCaffrey.

About The Author
Joseph Kissel
Joseph Kissel is a journalist, editor and photographer. He is also the Vice President of the New York Coalition for Open Government, a non-partisan, non-profit group that advocates for transparency and the public's right to freedom of information.