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Public skepticism high as Buffalo Police start wearing body cameras next month

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Mike Desmond/WBFO News
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The Buffalo Police Advisory Board is holding public meetings on body cameras.

With Buffalo Police to start wearing body cameras next month, there is a lot of public skepticism about the rules for using the cameras. That was apparent at a community meeting held at the Frank E. Merriweather Library Wednesday night.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News

The Buffalo Police Advisory Board has been holding meetings about the cameras. Wednesday night, the board told those in attendance at the library what the draft rules are for the camera use and what changes the board is seeking. There also have been meetings with police to discuss those changes in the proposed rules.

"We want to make sure that folks are aware of what's going on here," said Board Co-Chair Danielle Johnson. "So it's like the thing is going to be rolled out in a matter of weeks. Want to make sure that folks are forewarned about what's actually going to happen with this, because blanket statements might be made about how this thing will operate. But it's good for folks and it's good for the community to know the details about what it is that's actually going to happen."

Body cameras come with controversy The most frequent criticism from members of the public is that the officers control when the cameras are on and off, and that shouldn't be. People at the meeting said the cameras should always be on.

John Mickens said the public and cell phones are the defense.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News

"What they put in writing, it ain't no help. There's no transparency," said Mickens. "If I see an incident out there where the cop shot five kids, all of them had body cameras, but we don't see that on TV. We hear what happened. There's nothing reported unless a private citizen happened to film it all."

The cameras can show bad police behavior, as with an incident involving a Erie County deputy sheriff at a Buffalo Bills game. Body cameras were rolling as a man was arrested. When examined, the video showed the deputy beat the man and then arrested him. No charges were filed against the deputy when the charges against the other man were dropped.

Retired State Corrections Capt. Martin Kearney said police need department brass monitoring the camera images.

"As an officer, you go to roll call with your lieutenant and then you go on the street. There's no corporal checking to see if you are doing what you were told to do. There's no sergeant checking to see if you are doing what you were told to do," said Kearney. "You are working directly for that lieutenant who is going to be allowed to review your footage. [That's] bad. A captain or above should review the footage."

Eventually, all 550 Buffalo Police officers will be equipped and trained, which might take a year.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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