Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of November 9, 2020

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of November 9, 2020

Date: November 11, 2020

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.

The Police Oversight Committee meeting took place on November 11th, 2020, at 11am and was two hours and 29 minutes, the second longest to date. Please watch the full meeting on Buffalo Common Council’s Facebook page as everything discussed did not make it into this summary due to the length of the meeting.  As a note, the next Police Oversight Committee meetings are January 25, and April 21, 2021.

Common Council's Police Oversight Committee meeting started with the Buffalo Police Advisory Board (PAB), stating it researched community suggestions. The PAB Chair asked for police reforms, including strengthening the Police Advisory Board's powers and creating a separate Commission on Community Police Oversight (CCPO) with political and legal independence. These changes would make the City of Buffalo give the PAB a budget, power to have hearings and subpoena the Buffalo Police Department (BPD), power to change BPD policy, and more. The CCPO would effectively be the group that "polices the police," handling complaints against the police fairly and without conflict of interest. Police Commissioner Lockwood admitted that he had not read the PAB's recommendations before the meeting, with Councilmember Wyatt expressing support for a compromise on the oversight model suggested by the PAB.

Please find the full overview of the PAB's recommendations on its Facebook page, or  email at PoliceAdvisoryBoard@gmail.com for more information.

Multiple representatives from the Minority Bar Association of Western New York (MBAWNY) made suggestions and statements supporting various police reforms. John Elmore spoke about how problematic BPD's policy to hide name tags and badge numbers is – especially during COVID-19 when masks cover their faces. Mr. Elmore also suggested that Buffalo adopt Syracuse's "Right-To-Know" Law, mandating police give detained or questioned residents their name, badge number, command information, and reason for questioning or detaining the resident at the beginning of the interaction. BPD stated that officers hide their names because of recent threats to officers' lives.

Samantha White stated that knowing an officer's name is critical to filling a complaint against an officer, and integral for defense attorneys to identify if they have received all their necessary evidence. Attorney and PPG Fellow Miles Gresham stated there must be a balance between safety and individual liberty when it comes to policing, noting laws exist to protect officers from personal harm. BPD responded by saying that the badge numbers are visible on police uniforms, but officers will continue to hide their names. Councilmember Wingo asserted that public servant names should be available, because it comes with the power of serving in public office. Wingo also shared a story about someone shooting his (empty) parked car 18 times after he made an unpopular Common Council decision years ago.

Councilmember Bollman stated explicit support for creating a stop receipt system for police. A stop receipt system requires that every officer give a receipt – which includes the officer identifying information and probable cause to every resident they stop without exception. The Common Council seemed to have a majority of members in support of officers identifying themselves by names. Council President Pridgen appears to want to spearhead the resolution of this issue.

Miles Gresham returned to request that Common Council strengthen the rules that control the use of police body cameras, reducing law enforcement’s authority to turn the devices on and off at will. Mr. Gresham also cited overtime issues, noting, based on the police union contract, a police officer receives four hours of overtime pay – even when they only appear in court for five minutes. He also asked Common Council to make the Buffalo Police Department's disciplinary procedures public and remove off-duty officers from schools. BPD responded by citing police union power over the body camera policy, overtime pay, and off-duty work, including work inside Buffalo Public Schools.

Concerning body cameras, Councilmember Wingo stated that, while he understood sensitive information might require BPD officers to shut off their cameras, he would like to know why the city cannot alter the video (or audio) to remove the sensitive information to release it to the public. BPD response was that the law prevents their ability to record certain information and prevents their ability to alter the videos before sending it in as evidence, because evidence must be presented to the prosecution, jury, and judge "as is."

Federal law provides a process called "in-camera" review. Judges have the power to privately look at confidential, sensitive, or private information to determine what – if any – information may be used by a party to a legal action, or if it can be made public.

Common Council discussed the pilot program for the restraint device called BolaWrap. BPD stated the device costs approximately $1,000, and that each cartridge is $30. BPD also confirmed Behavioral Health Team officers will primarily use the BolaWrap for mental health calls, but that officers may also use it to restrain any non-compliant individual. Though there does not appear to be a policy in place to dictate the use of BolaWrap, BPD plans to use model policy provided by the corporation. Council President Pridgen asserted BPD needs to develop a policy before the pilot program begins. Common Council also discussed potential liability for trips and falls related to BolaWrap, with a representative from Corporation Counsel stating the city would litigate or settle on a case-by-case basis.

PPG will soon release a report about BolaWrap, explaining what it is, its use, and capabilities. Please make sure to visit ppgbuffalo.org and subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated on our reports.

A Buffalo resident with a completed complaint against an officer spoke about BPD failing to sufficiently punish police officers who have broken the law – as she can attest to in her specific case. Councilmember Wingo responded by making a statement supporting the civilian's issues with the system, and Common Council’s need to change it to ensure that residents don't view police as above the law.

Councilmember Wyatt asked questions about the process of Internal Affairs (IA) investigations, with BPD responding IA investigations might take anywhere from "a few months to a year" to complete – with the clock starting once the complainant comes into the precinct to file the complaint. City attorneys repeatedly interrupted the meeting to stop city officials from discussing matters that could be under litigation or investigation. Council President Pridgen expressed concern over the uncertainty by city attorneys of whether the issue is under litigation or investigation. In addition, the councilmember noted this is a recurring problem that denies the public trust in Common Council’s ability to have their concerns responded to at the Police Oversight Committee meeting.

BPD left the meeting nineteen minutes before it concluded.

Lastly, PPG Just Recovery Coordinator Tanvier Peart provided a report to the Common Council about alarming statistics, showing the disproportionate impact of BPD arrests on Black people in Buffalo, primarily on subjective charges – like “resisting arrest” – that rely on the officer's perspective. Tanvier Peart also spoke about community support for police reforms, including an increased focus on harm reduction, the need for independent civilian oversight, a prearrest diversion program (LEAD), and disallowing armed officers from responding to mental health and drug use calls in favor of mental health workers, a position supported by national mental health and law enforcement organizations, and CIT International, the organization that implements CIT police programs.

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx

This summary was drafted by Orlando Dickson, Civic Educator at Partnership for the Public Good.