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Town Hall meeting calls out Buffalo police union for stifling reform


Buffalo's Police Advisory Board would create a very different police department under a plan it is presenting to the Common Council. The plan ranges from outside investigation of cops to limiting the mayor's choice of police commissioner.

The board advises the Common Council about police issues, particularly the Police Oversight Committee. That is an increasingly active committee, gradually calling for more than occasional meetings.

Many Councilmembers want to change the city's police department, with some residents pushing the "de-fund the police" argument. The Advisory Board plan would open the process on how the department is run.

The Common Council wants major changes in the Police Benevolent Association contract and it does have final approval. Many in Wednesday evening's virtual town hall meeting on the subject said the police union itself has become the obstacle to the changes they want in the department.

"We have a serious problem in the State of New York, particularly around police unions, when laws that are meant to protect collective bargaining rights of workers are used in a way that disadvantages the communities in which they are supposed to serve," said Advisory Board member De'Jon Hall. "And that is clearly the circumstance here in the State of New York regarding police reform."

That has been an issue in past meetings. In this one, the board proposed discipline of officers being shifted to an outside agency with civilians on its board. Currently, discipline is handled by Buffalo Police's Internal Affairs, with investigating officers assigned by Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood.

Advisory Board Member De'Jon Hall said the union is a barrier to police reform.
Credit Zoom

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Courtney Friedline agreed union bargaining has to change.
"At this point, by continuing to give them things like, do this trade back and forth, which is how all contracts come to be, it just feels like we have to get enough power to say, 'Okay, we're not giving you any more at this point until we start getting what we want' and, frankly, we need to slash it so much that it's going to be a while until you get anything," Friedline said.

The issue of residency for police again surfaced. Police Advisory Board member and retired cop Ari Moore said there has to be a residency rule.
"You can't live in Buffalo and go to Cheektowaga and become a police officer, but the City of Buffalo seems to be the only municipality that that doesn't operate for," Moore said. "State Police? Sheriff's Department? Yes. But for the City of Buffalo, our officers need to be residents of our city."

There has been a residency rule, but board members and speakers did not appear to know how many officers live in the city and if anyone checks.

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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