The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association's issuing of 11,000 parking tickets to local violators, but almost none to themselves or their friends around police headquarters, challenged the authority of the mayor and his police commissioner.
Both officials met that challenge and reasserted command of the department. There is no question about the power of the police union, and its willingness to use it however its leaders see fit on behalf of their members, even if it punishes taxpayers.
Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson have difficult jobs in delivering the kind of leadership the public expects. They are saddled with contracts that frequently tie their hands, the Taylor Law that limits what can be negotiated and state arbitrators who almost always side with the union. Nonetheless, managing the Police Department has become an early test for both.
The weeks-long ticketing blitz conducted to protest, according to some officers, a frustrating wage freeze covering city workers, is getting old. It's time to turn the corner on this, and that's exactly what the mayor did last week. Laws will be enforced, said Brown, and lawbreakers punished. This comes at a time when most Western New Yorkers want to give Brown time to start turning around the city and its image, something its police are hardly bolstering.
Police officers working to rule only further deter Western New Yorkers from taking advantage of the city's abundant assets, hurting restaurants, theaters, museums and retailers. Now, on top of this eight-week blitz, News reporter Maki Becker Sunday revealed that the "zero tolerance" policy on parking violations doesn't extend to the streets clogged with unofficial vehicles around police headquarters. Of the 11,000 parking tickets written this year, only a handful came within a windshield of a police-related violator.
Gipson should get tough with the "work to rule" concept. He should let his officers know that while they're ticketing every infraction, they will also be held accountable for accurate time sheets, precise breaks and lunches and talking on cell phones while patrolling. "Work to rule" can cut both ways when directed at abusers of the concept.
Now Brown and Gipson need to steer newfound police zeal for enforcement into positive directions so all areas of the city benefit, including around the government buildings at Church and Franklin streets.