The Buffalo Common Council is proceeding with efforts to establish a Right to Know law to bolster police transparency and accountability.
The model is based on a Syracuse statute passed by the Council there and signed by Mayor Ben Walsh last year. It is one of the police reforms Syracuse implemented following Black Lives Matter and other protests that broke out last year following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The Syracuse law mandates that an officer provide his or her name, rank and command at the onset of any questioning or any traffic stop. The officer must also give a reason for the stop, and at the end of an interaction, if there’s no arrest, the officer will leave a business card with the citizen that contains his or her identifying information as well as pertinent police department phone numbers, according to documents filed by Buffalo Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
The law also requires that officers ask for and receive recorded consent before searching a person or property without a warrant. The officer must explain to the person that there will be no search if the person refuses.
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Buffalo lawmakers adopted a resolution directing the corporation counsel to draft similar Right to Know legislation and file it with the Council by April 13.
Tajuana Cerutti-Brown, public information officer for the Syracuse mayor, said Wednesday that implementation has been ongoing since December in terms of getting Syracuse officers trained and equipped with things like business cards. And Police Chief Kenton Buckner has noted that the department expects to have Right to Know fully launched in April.
The Syracuse ordinance was presented to the Buffalo Council last December in response to a decision by Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood to no longer require police officers to display their names on their uniforms. That decision was made after some officers received death threats and had their personal information circulated publicly, but the move didn’t sit well with many community members, activists and organizations.
The decision was reversed in January after their criticism.
Pridgen said Tuesday the law being drafted is not anti-police, but is about building trust and having a line of contact if a person feels he or she has been mistreated by a police officer.
“I want to see it on a positive note where we build community,” Pridgen said. “But also, if there’s a bad actor out there, a person is able to have accurate information to report.”