Buffalo Police forum draws large crowd; Commissioner supports body cameras
There were many opinions on policing in Buffalo Tuesday night, many of which were shouted out during a raucous forum in Mount Olive Baptist Church sponsored by Mayor Byron Brown.
Mayoral aides were careful to say they couldn't talk about specific cases even if the crowd wanted to, like the case of former Officer Cariole Horne who was thrown off the force for conflicts with other officers and allegedly violent behavior toward civilians.
There were frequent shouts of Horne's name and shouts of a lot of other topics, enough that several people were escorted out of the room.
"Folks, come on, we have to stay together on this," said Mayor Brown, in an attempt to respond. "We are answering the questions people have written out. We are going to have to calm ourselves down. This is a community meeting to listen to everybody's question."
But some in the audience continued to express their opinions vocally. One male protestor began shouting "I can't breathe," a symbolic chant of the recent protests over police cases.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he favors putting body video cameras on all officers but says it will be expensive to start and expensive to operate.
"I believe it would be a good idea to have body cameras. I believe it would lower complaints. I believe it would change bad behavior if they're doing things they shouldn't be doing. But, there is a cost. Initial cost estimates about $1.5 million to outfit the department and, after that, there is a recurring cost," said Derenda.
The body camera proposal drew vocal support from the audience.
One question included why there is no civilian oversight of police policy conducts, when police are supposed to be serving citizens.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said his office has sent officers to prison, although few for violating civilian civil rights.
"I've been in law enforcement almost 30 years. I've been both in D.C. and I've been here in Buffalo now since 1991," Hochul said. "There are literally hundred and hundreds and thousands of contacts with people and police officers, every day. With all of those contacts, we've charged and convicted six."
Hochul said a lot more than that have been convicted on criminal charges and the police department said other cases are under investigation.
Another question asked police why white officers, when patrolling people of color, place their hands on their guns. That question drew some applause. Police Commissioner Derenda responded, despite backlash from some audience members.
"I can't speak for individual officers actions when approaching suspects or different community members. What I can say, there are policies in place, there are procedures in place," stated Derenda. "Each case is different."
After a more than two-hour session, the meeting was concluded with comments by Rev. George Nicholas with the Concerned Clergy of Western New York. Nicholas summed up the session noting "a lot of information and a lot of things that are going on by law enforcement that many in the community where not aware of. Seems to be a significant communication gap between community and law enforcement."
Rev. Nicholas vowed to be part of figuring out how to close the gap for citizens. Nicholas said he and other pastors will make a commitment to work to do what it can to help bridge the gap.
"We want to make sure our community is safer. we want to prevent that which happened in Ferguson and Staten Island from happening here in Western New York," noted Nicholas.
Both Nicholas and Mayor Brown noted this is just the beginning, the first conversation and dialogue, with more to come.
"Incorporate your concerns, your ideas, your recommendations into how we police going forward," concluded Brown.