|Date:||October 21, 2022|
By Rose Thomas |
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
For this summary, we will focus on three meetings: the Caucus Meeting, Regular Meeting, and Police Oversight Committee. A Caucus Meeting is where members from a specific political party, in Buffalo's case, the democratic party, meet, but official voting on issues does not occur. The Regular Meeting is the Common Council's primary meeting, where they make official decisions on issues. The Police Oversight Committee concerns all issues dealing with the Buffalo Police Department.
The Caucus Meeting discussed items before the Common Council during the upcoming Regular Meeting. The Comptroller's Office was available to discuss the transfer of funds for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association ("PBA") settlement that will impact Buffalo's finances next year. Representatives also responded to the Finance Committee's previous informational request, much to Council Member Wyatt's delight.
Council Member Wingo began the Regular Meeting by expressing gratitude for law enforcement agents. He stated people are often "painted with general brushes" but wanted to acknowledge the "stellar enforcement" through the Buffalo Police Department, Erie County Sheriff's Office, and New York State Police. He wanted to shed a positive light, given negative media coverage, and honored the New York State Police with a proclamation.
Council Member Nowakowski put forth a resolution supporting community benefits in the new Buffalo Bills stadium deal. He spoke of Buffalo and how city residents make up one-third of Erie County's total population. Nowakowski would like to see a component of a community benefits agreement ("CBA") include Commodore Perry and other cultural amenities, such as Johnnie B. Wiley, because "we are all taxpayers."
Council Member Wyatt spoke on the traffic study at Kensington and Bailey near the Cleve-Hill Plaza related to the new Hopewell Opioid Clinic construction. When he looked at the traffic impacts, Council asked the Department of Public Works to look into the issues at Kensington and Eggert, known to have constant traffic congestion. As the clinic hopes to serve 300 patients, there is a potential for traffic increase in the area. Wyatt requested the Department of Public Works to conduct a traffic study to examine the dangers. There has yet to be any documentation that Hopewell provided stating why it chose to build here and continues progress building the clinic.
The Police Oversight Committee meeting started with a discussion of policy reforms and community engagement. Council Member Rivera opened up the floor to address language access regarding the agenda. City of Buffalo's Police Commissioner Gramaglia spoke of a language access card developed and frequently used to assist callers that's been successful and a great addition, along with a wallet-size card. Gramaglia noted he's working closely with the Captain of Community Policing, Tommy Champion, who works with resettlement and immigrant groups. Council Member Rivera asked if police track the utilization of the language access line or how often the cards get utilized or handed out. Commissioner Gramaglia says BPD doesn't follow that information. Regarding the phone line, he would have to inquire as he has not received any related complaints or issues.
Council Member Rivera asked the commissioner to recount the events leading up to a squatter's death at 149 Arkansas. He answered the question by stating that his department has received hundreds of calls complaining about people entering the property. Since it's privately owned and boarded up, Commissioner Gramaglia noted that he and his team could not enter without probable cause. He then stated that the department used a lot of resources to patrol the area to ensure that another break-in or death won't occur. He suggested that there should be some financial or criminal sanctions against the property owner as Buffalo Police used most of its resources to patrol the area with the neglected households.
Commissioner Gramaglia stated that if squatters remain in a home when asked to vacate, they will face criminal contempt charges. Along with this, the police will not need a signed supporting deposition either, as a judge already gave the order for on-site arrests. Council Member Rivera added the Buffalo Housing Court must hold property owners accountable.
Council Member Wyatt requested data on bail reform to ensure community public safety. Buffalo Police Commissioner Gramaglia supports the idea of bail reform as people accused of low-level offenses shouldn't languish in a jail cell. He used an example of an individual charged with several car break-ins and suggested alternatives to incarceration to address the root causes. However, Gramaglia argued there are unintended consequences of the bail reform law he blames for violent cases.
Bail reform remains a weaponized topic as the culprit for the rise in crime and violence throughout the pandemic. Yet, crime rose across the country, in states with and without bail reform. Data from Buffalo City Court cases reveals from January 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, only 1.4% of people released on their own recognizance faced rearrest for a gun charge. Roughly 2.5% of people were rearrested for a violent felony charge during the first 18 months of the new bail rules. This number mirrors state data that shows roughly 2% of people in New York released before trial are rearrested for allegedly committing a violent crime. Pretrial detention traps people—often from historically excluded and over-policed communities—into a cycle of poverty and punishment before ever being convicted of a crime. Investing more money into policing and incarceration to respond to systemic inequities does not address underlying symptoms or reduce crime.
Council Member Wyatt expressed concern about measures to address police officers' mental health. Commissioner Gramaglia stated Buffalo Police maintains a "pretty robust system" since it uses several peer groups and wellness programs to support officers with mental health needs. Additionally, if officers do not feel comfortable speaking to someone on their team, they can contact OP Overwatch Assistance.
Bystandership can also be another way police officers can intervene. For example, if they feel their partner may be having a bad day, they can take over answering calls or reporting in the neighborhoods while patrolling. Council Member Wyatt asked if the Buffalo Police Department could consider mandating time off or vacations for stress officers.
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