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'We're here to help,' says EC Undersheriff as racial task force begins state-mandated review

Mike Desmond / WBFO News
The Erie County Sheriff's Holding Center has been the site of numerous protests, this one in late September.

Under an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, every government in New York with a police agency must study how that agency works and whether it has any racial bias or disproportionate policing of people of color. The task force to study the Erie County Sheriff's Department kicked off Wednesday night on a tight schedule.
In his executive order, the governor pointed to a long list of Black people killed in interactions with police. Besides the executive order, there's also new legislation that reforms aspects of policing in New York.

With that is the hammer, that if a local government doesn't go through the process, including approval by the local legislative body, Albany can cut off state cash flowing into that community.

Springville contracts with the Sheriff's Department to patrol the village. Task force member and Springville Mayor William Krebs said his diplomat son questioned the safety of his Black grandson in the village.

"Dad, can my son walk safely in Springville?" Krebs said. "He was talking about a Black young man walking on the village streets of Springville and he was questioning me whether it would be safe. So Black Lives Matter, even in rural America and certainly personally to me."

Springville has a group of part-time officers, besides the deputies, and the village will have to create its own Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Task Force. The same is going on in Buffalo, with its far larger department and its own task force.

The Sheriff's Department task force ranges from a retired FBI assistant special agent in charge to a former federal monitor of Buffalo Police to a town supervisor. The group has to have its report in time for the Erie County Legislature to study it, potentially making its own changes and sending the final version to Albany by April 1.

Task force member and Criminal Justice professor Marty Floss said he has been here before, looking at police operations and clashes with the public.

"That was kind of my attitude with being the overseer of the Buffalo Police Department for the Department of Justice," Floss said. "I don't want to tell you that there is no use of force in the Buffalo Police Deparment or no complaints in the city anymore. I tried really hard. I hope that's what we can do. My hope is that we can be open, honest and fair, that we can be transparent to everybody."

Undersheriff John Greenan said his department will cooperate.

"We're looking for just a fair and open process," Greenan said. "We're looking to be able to voice both our agreement and our concerns about anything you may say as we go through this process. But we're here to help."

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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