Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of January 8, 2024

Date: January 12, 2024

by Caitlin Crowell
Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items. If you want to learn more about how the council meetings work and how you can get involved, check out our guide.

For this summary, we will report on the Caucus, Regular, and Police Oversight Committee meetings. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.

As Majority Leader, newly-elected council member Leah Halton-Pope ran the Caucus meeting for the first time. These are the advance meetings where the council majority—in this case, every member of the all-Democratic group—goes over the upcoming regular meeting agenda. They also hear from and question department heads.

In the Regular meeting, CP Scanlon announced that to reflect Buffalo’s religious diversity, meeting invocations will be offered by guests from different faith traditions. January is National Blood Donor Month, so the council is hosting a blood drive at Niagara Square on Tuesday, January 30, 2024 from 9:30am-2:30pm.

The Police Oversight Committee meeting began with a report from Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. He spoke about the city’s reduced number of shootings and lowered rates of violent crimes. Property crime, though, is up substantially.

Gramaglia spoke about the department’s “hot spot” technology, which is a policing strategy that involves breaking the city up into hundreds of different segments to target specific high-crime areas. He also discussed a mandate to have officers “present, visible, and engaged” on the streets.

CM Rivera and CP Scanlon pressed the commissioner on police reporting of “cleared,” or resolved, cases. That rate stands at about 64% citywide. 

CM Wyatt asked how the police department is implementing improvements in the wake of the civil unrest in 2020. Gramaglia said that having officers get out of their cars to talk with people was one change, and another is a neighborhood engagement team that visits neighbors in the wake of search warrants to explain what happened.

The committee’s agenda started with a discussion of a report, “Driving While Black,” by Buffalo’s public radio news station, WBFO. A WBFO study showed that police stop Black drivers three times more often than they do white people. The department is attempting to improve, said Gramaglia, who then read from the police manual that prohibits racially profiling drivers and neighborhoods. In his discussion of body cameras, the commissioner encouraged anyone in the public who is filming police encounters to share that video with detectives.

CM Rivera suggested that an explanation of large racial disparities in police stops might make Buffalonians feel more comfortable. Gramaglia spoke of police stops for tinted windows, saying that often police couldn’t see who they were pulling over because of the darkened glass. However, tinted window stops are a pretext for pulling drivers over that many advocates say opens the door for racist policing. He noted that Buffalo police are now required to take implicit bias training. CM Bollman pointed out that some census data that the police use is inaccurate and should be updated.

CM Wyatt talked about the emotional trauma a police stop can lead to. He said he himself had been pulled over in Kenmore for no infraction at all, and it had made him afraid. He encouraged residents to attend their local district police meetings to foster communication and get answers. He again said that a civilian review board would improve the relationship between police and residents.