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'The next level': Cayuga County-area law enforcement take part in domestic violence training

AURELIUS — When the Socci and Bell families were asked to speak to law enforcement about domestic violence, both wanted to leave officers with the same message: Show compassion. 

On Friday morning, the Soccis and Bells shared similar stories with members of the Auburn Police Department, Cayuga County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police. It was part of a special training program to teach law enforcement new techniques to investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases in the county. 

First, John and Tina Socci spoke about their daughter, Katie, who was killed in Auburn on June 14, 2011. The couple recalled the months and days leading up to Katie's death, describing how her ex-boyfriend, David McNamara, had begun stalking the mother of his child and going through her trash. 

Tina Socci stood beside her daughter's picture — a picture that was taken two days before police found her body in a shallow grave. That same day, Tina said Katie had gone to McNamara's probation officer and complained about his stalking. 

"The probation officer said, 'Let's just see what he does,'" Tina said, crying. "Two days later, she was dead." 

Then, five months after Katie's death, Kelly Bell said she received her own devastating news — Bell's daughter, Bridget, had died. She was stabbed to death in Auburn by her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Brahney, on Nov. 21, 2011

Kelly Bell held a picture of her grandson, Finn, as she addressed the officers Friday morning. 

"This is the real victim here," she said. 

But both the Soccis and Bells said compassion helped them through their loss, and they asked officers to keep that in mind as they investigate domestic violence cases in Cayuga County.  

"I can't tell you how important even a little bit of compassion is to victims of domestic violence," John Socci said. "We knew (the officers) weren't just doing their job. We knew they cared for us." 

"Your chief (Shawn Butler) took the compassion to become our friend," Bell added. "It only takes five minutes of your time ... five minutes and compassion." 

According to Det. Lt. Brian Schenck of the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, reports of domestic violence have risen in the county. Last year, he said local law enforcement investigated over 2,200 cases — roughly 300 more cases than 2014. 

That's why Patty Weaver, the domestic violence services coordinator at the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, said Friday's training was crucial to the community, as the program hopes to prevent and prosecute more cases. 

"Domestic violence has always been an issue ... but now that we are raising more awareness around it, I think more people are reaching out for help and assistance," she said. "This training will allow us to help more people." 

Mark Wynn was in charge of the training program Friday. A retired lieutenant from the Nashville Police Department, Wynn said he has worked in domestic violence issues for 40 years; he now spends his time teaching other departments new techniques. 

One of the main issues Wynn wanted to tackle Friday was how to prosecute a case without victim cooperation.

"What often happens in cases is the victim pays a heavy price for cooperating with anybody because they have a very controlling and abusive partner," he said. "So I want to talk to these officers about what it looks like when a victim minimizes what's happening and how to use that when you prosecute your case. ... You can go forward and prosecute a case without a victim." 

Weaver said around 130 officers and victim advocates attended the training, which is partially funded by a two-year $200,000 state grant. The program was held both Thursday and Friday to allow more officers to participate. 

Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler said he made the training mandatory for nearly all of his sworn officers. So far, he said he received positive feedback. 

"This is really going to take us to the next level," he said. "(Domestic violence) is something we deal with every day and if we can take a different perspective on how we investigate these calls or give a little bit more support to victims ... hopefully we can prevent the tragedy that (the Soccis and Bells) live with every day of their lives." 

"Had we sat through this (training) six years ago, things might have been different," John Socci said. "To us, this is priceless ... because I know it will make one hell of a difference for other families down the road."

Siena poll: NY voters split on constitutional convention

If a Siena College poll released Friday is any indication, the once-strong support for a constitutional convention in New York is fading.

The poll found 44 percent of voters support convening a constitutional convention, down from 62 percent just five months ago. Thirty-nine percent of voters oppose the constitutional convention.

Voters in New York are asked every 20 years if the state should hold a constitutional convention. When the question was last on the ballot in 1997, voters rejected the convention. Several groups, including public employee unions concerned about how such an event could impact collective bargaining rights, have led the opposition.

A plurality of Democrats — 45 percent — support holding a constitutional convention. Half of independents say they would vote "yes" on the question in November. A majority of Republicans — 54 percent — would vote "no."

There is also disagreement over whether a constitutional convention will be worthwhile. Forty-five percent say it would be an "expensive waste of time," while 44 percent said it would be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to update the state constitution.

"With a month till Election Day, support for ConCon narrowing and an expected campaign by various interest groups from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum to defeat ConCon, its likelihood of passing is anything but a sure bet," Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said.

He added, "That said, in what is likely to be a very low turnout election with those who do vote having to flip the ballot to cast a vote on ConCon it is difficult to assess just how many New Yorkers will cast their vote. It's even more difficult to determine if that small subset of New York voters is more likely to be pro-ConCon or anti-ConCon."

Despite the mixed results on the overall question, there is strong support for several ideas that could be considered during a constitutional convention.

A vast majority of voters support adding protections from discrimination based on gender identity, ethnicity and sex. They also support imposing term limits on statewide officials, including the governor, and state legislators.

Nearly 70 percent of voters backed a prohibition on laws that would restrict reproductive rights and two-thirds supported designating state legislators as full-time employees and banning them from having outside income.

Two proposals that were opposed by a majority of voters: Allowing more economic development in the Adirondacks and limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Auburn downtown plan loses to Cortland in $10 million state competition

For the second year, Auburn's efforts to win a state competition for millions of dollars in downtown improvement funding has come up short.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that the city of Cortland has won the 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative contest for the central New York region. That city's winning application will bring $10 million in state funding for a variety of projects aimed at boosting the downtown area.

Auburn has submitted DRI applications in both years — 2016 and 2017 — that the state has held the competition, which chooses one winning municipality in 10 regions around the state. A year ago, the city of Oswego took the central New York prize.

Despite not being chosen again, Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said the city will continue to move forward with its downtown revitalization. He issued a statement Friday morning that also outlined projects that are in the pipeline.

"The Governor is to be credited for prioritizing revitalization of downtowns throughout upstate," Quill's statement said. "I am certain the Governor will not just walk away from the opportunity to create the over 500 new and construction jobs our 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative plan will create and I will be asking him to do as much as he can to assist us to move our downtown projects forward as fast as possible. We congratulate the City of Cortland and look forward to working with the Governor to move forward the downtown development projects we have here in Auburn. With many years of significant positive growth our downtown is in a position of strength. I want to thank the small business owners, project developers, the Auburn BID and our City staff for assembling a dynamic 2017 DRI plan for our downtown and I encourage everyone not to be discouraged by the Governor’s decision. We will continue to work together to move our downtown forward.”

In addition to applying for DRI funds, the city has also included several downtown projects in applications for state funding through the state Consolidated Funding Application.

Bill would make it illegal to own bump stocks in NY state

ALBANY — Some New York state lawmakers want to make it illegal in the state to buy, sell or possess devices known as bump stocks that allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic the rapid fire of automatic weapons.

Authorities found 12 of the devices fitted to guns in the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock.

It is illegal to use bump stocks in New York state but a loophole in the law makes it legal to buy, sell or possess the devices.

Legislation introduced this week would immediately ban bump stock sales and, over time, prohibit possession of them.

Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of Albany says it's illogical to allow the sale and possession of a device that cannot be used legally.

The bill has bipartisan support. Lawmakers will reconvene in Albany in January.