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Common Council seeks police accreditation, explanation for use of force

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Immediately following a lengthy meeting by its Police Oversight Committee, the Buffalo Common Council passed resolutions asking the Buffalo Police Department to seek state accreditation and document its policies regarding the use of force.

The committee held its first meeting of the year late Tuesday morning in Common Council Chambers, and heard public comments on various topics. What lawmakers and those in the audience learned at the meeting was the police department currently does not have an accreditation with any agency.

Council members quickly drafted and passed a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday afternoon, urging the police department to seek an accreditation from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. 

Council President Darius Pridgen says having accreditation will give the department a set of standards by which they may comply, making many of the concerns and conversations brought up at the committee's hearing unnecessary.

"Usually when you have an accrediting agency, they also know what's needed in municipalities like ours in order to receive the accreditation and it would, in advance, suggest those things to the department," Pridgen said. 

Police Captain Steve Nichols attended the committee meeting and later told WBFO at the department's headquarters that an accreditation would set a minimum set of standards that, in the opinion of police brass, is already surpassed.

"I think personally we shine way above a minimum standard," he said. "Especially in our community policing programs and our dealing with the community. We're always out there for people."

Several other speakers at the committee meeting suggested communication between the police and the community is in need of improvement. 

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda told lawmakers that the department would be willing to seek accreditation, if the Police Benevolent Association agrees to officer evaluations.

Council members passed another resolution quickly drafted after the committee meeting, asking police to submit a white paper outlining its use of force in violent altercations. 

Discussed at the committee meeting was an incident in early January during which a police cruiser was used to pin a despondent individual. That incident remains under internal investigation, according to police officials. 

As part of discussing responses to violent situations, police officials revealed they are not interested in acquiring tasers as part of their arsenal. The Council's requested white paper would include an written explanation why police do not desire tasers.

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
Print copies of resolutions drafted and passed by the full Common Council Tuesday, which met almost immediately after the Police Oversight Committee completed its nearly three-hour hearing.

"If we don't have tasers, what are the alternate means to addressing issues? Especially when we know there's a large population of mental illness?" said Council member Rasheed Wyatt outside the committee hearing. "The gentlemen which the police car ran into, that was a concern of mine. If they don't have other alternatives, we want to know what alternatives there will be to address those types of issues which we know will possibly be increasing."

Commissioner Derenda vowed to submit a report explaining his thinking against tasers. The white paper sought by the Council is due by the next Police Oversight Committee meeting, which is scheduled for July 18. 

However, at the start of Tuesday's hearing, Council member and committee chairman David Rivera suggested other meetings could be scheduled if both sides felt they were necessary.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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