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Buffalo Police Department sued over transparency concerns

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The Buffalo Police Department is being sued by the New York Civil Liberties Union for withholding information the organization says should be available to the public. Police conduct has been thrust into the national spotlight recently. During that time, five Buffalo officers have faced federal charges for using excessive force in three separate instances. One case accuses an officer of shooting a young man in handcuffs with a BB gun.

The BPD cites a law that protects officers from reports on use of force and shootings.  NYCLU Western Regional Director John Curr says the Freedom of Information Law should allow the public access to these records.

“They’ve used improper reasons to withhold some information,” said Curr. “By that, I mean they’ve used exceptions that are allowed under state law for exempting personal information with regard to officers to deny us access to use of force reports. We know that’s improper.”

Curr says it’s difficult to know if the BPD’s actions are intentional or “just ignorance.” The NYCLU says the department has only provided complete information for one-quarter the 39 records it has requested and the lawsuit is a matter of transparency.

“We need to be able to show the public what it is that the second largest police force in the state is doing, how they’re doing it, [and] how they maintain records of the conduct they are establishing,” said Curr. “We need to show them with their own statistics to what is actually taking place on the street.”

The State Supreme Court sided with NYCLU two years ago in a similar case against Erie County. Curr said the suit aligns with their Police Report Card Project, which aims to increase accountability.

“With regard to the conduct of the Buffalo police department, this is only a larger attempt to gain an understanding of what’s taking place,” said Curr. “This is not about the Buffalo police being bad. This is not about them doing anything other than complying with the law and that’s why we’re going to court.”

A police spokesman says the department did respond to the request and did provide information, but can't comment further due to pending litigation.