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Buffalo Police get an earful from East Side residents

Mike Desmond

The tangled relationship between Buffalo Police and residents of the city's East Side was on display Tuesday evening at the Delavan-Grider Community Center.

The Common Council's Police Advisory Board was holding one of its periodic meetings to hear from the public about crime, punishment and policing. The group advises the Common Council on policing matters and provides information on issues in the form of policy papers.

A lot of that came before the crowd, from a December officer-involved shooting on Northland Avenue to the perennial East Side problem of jobs, even jobs in the neighborhood.

Deputy Police Commissioner Barbara Lark was there to talk about what's going on in the Police Department, like a new unit of officers specially trained to deal with people who are mentally impaired, a national problem for police officers.

Ron Dixon was there to demand some changes in the way officers operate.
"Punishment needs to be issued to officers when they are not wearing body-cams," Dixon said. "That includes volume for the microphones. All conversations should be recorded between officers and citizens. Punishment needs to be issued when officers are not following the proper protocol when pulling individuals over, detaining or arresting them."

Dixon said police need to better explain how the cameras work. Lark said the police department is also working on a final set of rules for the body cameras.

As the meeting wound down, businessman Maurice Walker delivered a blast about the need for the community to work together, for itself.

"Block clubs have to come together. We need to start seeing some change in our neighborhood or we're going to die. Period. We're going to die," Lark said, "'Cause you might see a stray bullet. I might see a stray bullet. It's going to happen. But when we come together, we got how you make this community. How you make these young boys love the community? We get them some of these jobs in the community."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Attendees had some pointed questions for police.

That has been an issue for generations. Walker said the East Side needs to help control city cash coming into the neighborhood and get some things done, citing a playground where two people have been murdered over the years, but the lights on the basketball court don't seem to get fixed.

Lark also said there's also an effort to teach citizens how the department works, like in routine traffic stops.

"We want to tell people how to keep themselves safe, how to keep their hands where they need to keep their hands so the police can see them all the time, and that will reduce the risk of violence and injury to anyone," Lark said. "We don't want our officers to be involved in any type of situation that puts them at risk or the community at risk. So we try to train our officers to be safe and to keep the citizens safe."

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.