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Rules governing police body cams get another once over

Marian Hetherly

Buffalo's Common Council slapped down the Brown administration Wednesday and refused immediate passage of a contract to provide body cameras for police officers. Members bounced the proposed contract to next Wednesday's Legislation Committee meeting.

Councilmembers were asked to approve a contract hundreds of pages in length without a committee review and without most members having had a chance to evaluate it.

After a long delay during Wednesday's meeting of the full council, a series of conversations with the mayor's office and staff, review of the contract, and huddles on the Council floor during several hours of recess, the contract went to committee.

Majority Leader David Rivera said too many important items are coming for a quick vote too late.

"None of us are opposed to this. We just want the process to go forward," said Rivera, a former Buffalo Police officer. "I don't want anybody to think that we're against body cameras and tasers and other technologies that will be out there. We just want to make sure, going forward, that we adhere to that policy. Somebody made mistakes along the way in not getting us this information."

Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt said more discussion is a good idea.

"Progressive organization to continue to go through and make good, sound decisions on behalf of the people we represent," Wyatt said. "For this to come to the point where we are rushed to make a decision and not able to think this through and see a contract, a legitimate contract, it just baffles my mind."

Council President Darius Pridgen said the Police Oversight Committee will be evaluating the contract and the process. Prodgen said members are concerned because the Police Department draft set of rules for the body cameras allow officers to turn them off in a fairly wide array of situations, and citizen don't want that.

"One of the main things that was brought up was about the officer's ability to turn off the camera and what would happen," Pridgen said, "and I think that's probably the main issue that we heard about."

The city is slated to pay Axon Corporation more than $2 million over five years for the cameras and data storage if the pact is approved.

Axon National Sales Director Vince Valentine, who handles this region for the company, said there will be a lot of data storage in the cloud.

"One of the requirements of Buffalo P.D. was that they had a program that provided them with an insurance or contingency plan of unlimited storage," Valentine said. "So there is no cap on the storage of the videos uploaded from their body camera footage."

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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