It is unfortunate that it took the arrest of a public official, Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Crystal Peoples, to focus attention on the need for a citizen review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct. But at least now there is some serious talk about it.
Perhaps voters in November will have the opportunity to consider the establishment of a citizen review board, rather than some vaguely defined entity that would simply audit the Police Department's handling of complaints, as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission. Such a board is not what we need in Buffalo.
If the objective is to establish a vehicle for actively dealing with and finding a solution to the underlying problems that work against public confidence in the police, then that vehicle will need to have more power and authority than the audit model. What is needed is an independent investigative board.
I am the director of the Western Regional Office of the New York Civil Liberties Union. We participated in the commission's hearings, speaking to the need for a strong citizen review board. We also provided the commission with a model plan for the establishment of such a board in Buffalo, and later supplied them with reports from numerous other cities with citizen review boards, evaluating the success of their boards.
I had hoped the positive information we provided would encourage the commission to recommend creating an independent investigative board with subpoena powers. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
However, it is clear that local citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the need for independent civilian review.