Erie county executive declares gun violence a public health crisis

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BUFFALO N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz is declaring gun violence a public health crisis and plans on creating a task force to fight it.

Erie county currently has the most gun violence out of any other county in New York state.

“Did we ever think that we’d be worse than the Bronx with regard to violent crime with a firearm? No, but this is 2020, not even 2021. I don’t know what 2021 is going to say but we know we have a very serious issue with regards to gun violence in our community,” Poloncarz said during a news conference Tuesday outside the Rath Building.

According to the Erie County Crime Analysis Center, homicides have increased over the last four years going from 46 in 2017, to 69 in 2020. Officials say the majority involved a gun.

The executive order creates a task force to work with law enforcement and will focus on decreasing violence.

“Just because we take action today doesn’t mean we’re going to to prevent all future crime, but by not taking action, would be shame on us if we’re not taking action when we can do something about it,” Poloncarz said. “That’s why we call on everyone to take action.”

The task force includes members of the Erie County Sheriff’s office, Buffalo police, local anti-violence organizations, mental health and social services agencies.

“If the leaders of today don’t start working together and producing outcomes and holding each other accountable, we’ll be doing ceremonies like this for years and years to come and I don’t want that to happen,” said county legislator April Baskin.

“This is a step in the right direction, this is a step in helping the most marginalized communities,” said county legislator Howard Johnson.

However, not every legislator agrees the executive order was the best choice of action.

“Gun violence is up because of the bad policies that have been passed at the state level for the past couple of years, we haven’t had the discussion about that yet. That discussion needs to happen and issuing an executive authority before any of that takes place is premature and an abuse of that authority,” said county legislator and minority leader Joe Lorigo.

Sarah Minkewicz is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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