Mayor Byron W. Brown’s draft recommendations for police reform in Buffalo released earlier this week fail to take adequate steps toward change and ignored community input, a group of activists and community groups said Friday.
The mayor’s proposed reforms would keep a police presence in schools, create no independent oversight of the police and leave unresolved an overreliance on police response to individuals suffering from mental health issues, they said.
“These recommendations simply do not go far enough to protect communities most harmed by the systems in place,” Tanvier Peart of Partnership for the Public Good said during a news conference conducted over video conferencing. “At a time when people are looking for transformational change, reforms that keep police in schools and take incremental steps to create law enforcement accountability barely move the needle.”
The four-page draft, released Monday, is part of the city’s effort to comply with a 2020 order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo for communities in the state that have their own police departments to adopt a reform plan by Thursday. Cuomo’s order came in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer, which triggered nationwide protests and calls for police reform.
The draft report by the Commission on Police Reform and Social Reconstruction calls for a strengthened Commission on Citizens’ Rights and Community Relations, for the police department to restart monthly public meetings in each police district, and putting a residency requirement and performance reviews of police officers into the police union contract, among other proposals.
The city has yet to incorporate a proposal to create an independent police oversight body, as recommended by the Police Advisory Board, an advisory committee created by the Common Council, said board member Mike Powell.
None of the advisory board’s recommendations were included in the draft recommendations, Powell said, and the board wasn’t consulted or interviewed in the development of the recommendations.
The draft recommendations fail to provide clarity on de-escalation techniques officers should use and omitted recommendations about police response to calls involving individuals with mental health issues, Powell said.
“I believe, and the board believes, that the people of Buffalo deserve better,” he said.
Instead of waiting for city officials to adopt a new oversight model, some are attempting to make the change by letting voters approve the plan through a ballot initiative.
“We need external, objective and accountable oversight of our police,” said Whitney Walker of VOICE Buffalo.
As further evidence of the exclusion of community input in the process, activists pointed to Friday morning’s deadline for public input, just four days after the draft recommendations were released.
In recent months, the City of Buffalo announced several changes to police policies and operations, including codifying into law a requirement for officers to intercede when another officer uses excessive force, limitations on the use of “no-knock” search warrants and banning the use of chokeholds.
“What people see in the resolution and what they will see in the report that we submit to the state is not the end of the process,” Brown said in remarks to reporters earlier this week. “It is a step in the process. And we’re going to continue to work with all members of the community as well as rank-and-file police officers to bring the reforms that the community is looking for.”
In September, Brown named 12 people to an advisory panel that authored the recommendations released this week.
One of that panel’s members, Christian Parra, said input from the Buffalo Police Department was given more weight than voices from the community.
“If we don’t unite at this moment,” Parra said, “there’s no pressure for the commission to make any change.”