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By Sharon Turano
LITTLE VALLEY - Seneca Nation officials are dedicating $1 million to fight the war on drugs.
Seneca Nation Tribal Councilor Don John of the Allegany Territory, who is a former sheriff, has taken a lead role in promoting the Seneca Nation's new initiative to combat drugs on the nation's territories.
"Drugs are a pervasive force in American society and the Seneca Nation is not immune from the destructive impact they have on individuals, families and the social fabric of our communities," John said.
He said the Seneca Nation governing body, the Tribal Council, voted unanimously to allocate $1 million dollars for programs, services and education and awareness efforts to prevent and combat drug use and addiction.
He said the nation is working with outside agencies, local law enforcement and area schools to develop programs that will help the nation prevent drug use.
"ON THE CUSP"
Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb said Seneca officials contacted the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department recently with concerns about rising crime. He said "a potential contract" is "on the cusp" so the two can work together to address the concerns.
Whitcomb said a proposal is being put together for nation review to let Seneca officials know "what we can do better" if nation funding were made available to the department.
He said the crime-fighting package could have benefits throughout the county. For instance, Whitcomb said, it would be "a mistake" to focus just on the Seneca territory if there is a pipeline of activity from elsewhere leading to crime on the territory.
Therefore, the three-year deal between the nation and sheriff's department could result in school resource officers for the Salamanca and Gowanda school districts and filling positions of those who take on the school duties from elsewhere in the department.
Although Whitcomb said the joint endeavor is "extremely exciting," he said currently the department is making sure all of the details are taken care of so the contract can be finalized.
Once it is, however, Whitcomb is ready to work on reducing violent and drug crimes, along with showing others how the governments can work together to do so. He has invited Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter to a state law enforcement convention in January to discuss that, thinking the relationship is the first of its kind.
"They are stepping up to the plate," he said, adding with that comes the opportunity to be creative in crime reduction. "I'm proud when they reached out their hand, it knocked on our door."
"MANPOWER IS NEEDED"
Whitcomb said he thinks the partnership idea stems from five or six years of a successful relationship with the Sheriff's Department providing security for the Seneca Allegany Casino, for which the nation pays. He said the relationship is one built on trust with the two not having a conflict.
Gary Wind, Salamanca police chief, said some violence has picked up in the city, which is built on the nation's Allegany Territory.
"Manpower is needed," Wind said, adding the city could use help.
He said it does not have resources to follow-up on all complaints or have all victims willing to cooperate.
The Salamanca Police Department's staff was cut last year, when three full-time and 13 part-time people were laid off. In a Sept. 17, 2010, press release Salamanca Mayor Jeffrey L. Pond said 49 city staff would be cut in order to control expenses, including those in the police department, after a dispute between the nation and state resulted in the city and county not receiving their share of payments for hosting the casino.
The nation alleges the state violated its terms by allowing other gaming devices in area exclusively reserved for nation gaming and has not paid the state. State officials have alleged the non-payment violates the agreement, however.
Since hosting municipalities of the casinos, like Salamanca, receive 25 percent shares of the state payment, the city has not gotten its share during the dispute. Pond said call volume in both the police and fire departments nearly doubled since 2004 when the casino opened, with the city using host municipality funding from the nation to pay for staff in the police and fire departments. He said the cuts would likely increase call response time.
Recent Salamanca crimes have included an armed robbery just outside the city, a Dec. 2 shooting on East State Street and shots being fired into a West State Street home in October.
Whitcomb said, however, increased crime has been seen across the county, where arsons, accidents, an attempted homicide, home invasion, drug seizures and more have occurred.
"We've never been busier," he said.