Domestic incidents up in Salamanca during shutdown, police chief reports

Salamanca city officials discuss the state of the city amid the COVID-19 shutdowns during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting via GoToMeetings online.

SALAMANCA — While the rates of other types of crimes have been consistent in Salamanca during the coronavirus shutdown and recently implemented curfew, police reported domestic incidents have roughly doubled in the past month.

During the regular Common Council meeting Wednesday, Salamanca Police Chief Troy Westfall said the department receives about 12 to 15 domestic incident reports a month but had already received 15 by May 13.

“In particular, they have been more violent,” the chief said. “One we just had last night, the individual also set fire to the house, so it was also an arson.” He said there have also been more incidents with mental health and body substance abuse issues.

With more incidents, Westfall said they’ve also had to hold more suspects in jail overnight, which has been difficult to do safely with social distancing practices in place.

“We’re trying to be selective about arrests, but we have to take corrective action when we see it,” he explained. “There were two nights this last week that our cells were full upon my arrival in the morning.”

Westfall said holding more suspects has also been an issue for the courts since hearings have to be held online, noting a worry about putting a new laptop in front of a suspect arrested for a violent incident.

Despite this, because of New York state’s recently implemented bail reform law, Westfall said fewer people brought in are going to jail after being processed, which leads to more repeat offenders in the following days.

Thankfully, Westfall said the police department has “come together well” over the past two months. He said first responders including police, fire and EMS personnel have the opportunity to have more COVID-19 testing done, which many Salamanca officers have signed up for.

“One of the key things is we have to have so many tests done in this area,” he added.

Meanwhile, Fire Chief Nick Bocharski said the firefighters have done well with the changes in protocol when responding to incidents. He said the department has a healthy stash of PPE that they continue to add to.

“We’ve done some talking between us and the city of Olean. Things we didn’t have, they shared with us,” he said. “We continue to get updates on protocols from our county medical control, state department of health. We’re in contact with them at least weekly.”

Bocharski also commended his department, the city police, Seneca Nation Marshals and other local agencies who responded during the two recent fires in the city. He said the fires took up a lot of manpower, but the departments work well together.

“Everything’s been positive right now,” he added. “They’ve been handling very well.”

IN OTHER areas of the city, department heads have reported their staff adapting well and remaining consistent with their work.

Board of Public Utilities General Manager Dennis Hensel said his crews for water, sewer and electric have been sheltered in place unless needed. As the weather improves, he said more workers are out on the field performing tasks that need their attention.

For the Department of Public Works, Superintendent Rob Carpenter said things have been business as usual on the city streets. He said his staff is at full force with appropriate safety practices and cleaning supplies in place.

Among the departments recent projects have been fixing sidewalks, notably at the American Legion parking lot off of Wildwood Avenue. “I would encourage everybody to take a ride down Seneca Street because I am very proud of my crew on the job they did down there,” Carpenter said.

At the city hall, offices remain closed to the public with alternating shifts of staff being in the building half of the time while the other half work from home. City Assessor Cynthia Franklin said her office has a couple of meetings set for the zoning board and the planning commission, the first time in nearly a year.

City Comptroller Kathi Sarver said her office is in the middle of collecting city taxes. She said residents can send their bills in the mail or use envelopes supplied outside the BPU office at city hall.

At the youth center, Youth Bureau Director Sandi Brundage said they are a hub with the school for providing meals to students and a place to drop off homework. She said during the summer, if the county is able to partially open, she’d like to look into offering space for one-on-one tutoring through the school district, as well as a referral source for families in need.

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