Mayor announces sweeping reforms for Buffalo Police Department
Mayor announces sweeping reforms for Buffalo Police Department

Harold McNeil

The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Mayor Byron W. Brown announced changes to police policy following days of protests that were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and fueled locally by resentment of police treatment of black and brown people in Buffalo’s poorest neighborhoods.

“Today marks an important moment in the history of Buffalo, N.Y., our state and our nation. The proposals we’re announcing today are a critical first step in a shared journey that we must all undertake to help make Buffalo more just, inclusive and equitable for black people,” Brown said Wednesday.

“We will shift policing in Buffalo, away from enforcement and to a restorative model that promotes stronger community bonds, civic engagement and an end to young black men, black people, being caught in a cycle of crime and incarceration by consciously limiting their negative engagement with police,” Brown said.

They include:

Replacing the Emergency Response Team’s crowd control duties with a public protection unit that will work with and ensure the safety of any group that wants to peacefully protest.

Making police body camera footage more easily accessible to the public.

Display the Buffalo Police Department’s use of force policy on the city and police websites.

Asking Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood and his leadership team to incorporate a law enforcement assisted diversion program into the existing community policing program.

Giving Buffalo police officers additional training in de-escalation, recognizing implicit bias, develop trauma-informed practices.

Convening a special commission to examine current procedures to make recommendations to shift the city’s policing model to a restorative approach.

Issuing an executive order to stop arrests of low-level nonviolent offenses.

Reforming and restructuring fines and fee schedules so they do not become an undue burden on struggling people.

In a statement later provided to the media, Brown also announced he was directing the commissioner “to require officers to explain to citizens why they are being stopped or pulled

over, and document that reason with ‘stop tickets’ each time they have an interaction with the community that is initiated by an officer.”

He also elaborated somewhat on the end of arrests for low level offenses. “I am ordering all Buffalo Police Officers to implement a policy providing for the issuance of appearance tickets for all non-violent crimes that do not involve property damage, weapons related offenses, large drug sales, or arrests mandated by State Law,” Brown said in the statement. Since Jan. 1 following the implementation of bail reform laws, almost all arrests for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies result in appearance tickets.

Brown stopped far short of “defunding” or “dismantling” the Buffalo Police Department, as activists in other cities have called for. The Minneapolis City Council announced it would disband its city’s police department earlier this week.

“I am not in favor of defunding the police department,” Brown said, “but I am in strong favor of reforming the police department.”

Brown also asked the police union to work with the city to make change happen. “In the past the police union has been a barrier to reform. … We are going to call on our police union to do the right thing by the people and by our community and be a partner for reform.”

Joining him in the announcement at the Northland Workforce Training Center were members a coalition of local social justice organizations who have been negotiating with City Hall; Josh Norman of the Buffalo Bills and Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints; and members of the Buffalo Police Department, including Deputy Commissioner Barbara Lark, Capt. Steve Nichols, who is charge of community relations, Capt. Amber Beyer, who is the health services coordinator, and the “singing cops” Officers Moe Badger and Michael Norwood.

Dr. Danni Johnson from the Buffalo Police Advisory Board said the mayor has been receptive to the calls for change from activists as they met for hours to discuss policy changes.

“We felt the intention in the room when meeting with Mayor Brown,” she said. “We felt the intention that he wants to create a better community and allow for the residents of the City of Buffalo to live better lives.”

Badger and Norwood announced a plan for the singing cops to join all of the Buffalo Police Department and the city and to hold a unity walk in the next coming weeks.

“We ask for peace. We hate to see our city like this, be blanketed by the events that’s going on across the world,” Norwood said.

Davis said he and Norman have traveled the country “to get a pulse of what our nation is going through.”

“We have to turn from our ways, our wicked ways, so our land can be healed,” Davis said. He asked the members of the coalition of local social justice organizations to stand behind him.

“There is a global outcry going on right now, on behalf of the people, a specific people that’s been held down in this country,” Davis said. “It’s amazing to see what we have everybody at the table.”

Davis praised Buffalo for its efforts to try to work together.

“Because where there’s unity, God commands a blessing,” Davis said.

“The mayor is listening to the young people,” Davis said. “He said he was amazed at how well they knew the policies. That’s the stuff on the ground.”

Norman then spoke: “What the outside world sees … they see a 75-year-old man in the street get knocked over the police.” He pointed to Badger and Norwood’s unity walk as a positive step forward.

“Things must change,” he said. “People are talking about Covid-19 is the pandemic. This is the pandemic.”

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