City, police union must quickly agree to bar officers from working for felons - The Buffalo News
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City, police union must quickly agree to bar officers from working for felons

There’s a bottom line on the idea of cops working for felons, and it’s this: It must no longer be allowed.

Yes, that’s right. The contract between the City of Buffalo and its police officers – men and women sworn to uphold the laws – permits cops to work for crooks. Head-spinning, but true.

The department and the police union should agree to a change in contract language that would prohibit that practice, pronto.

Buffalo is the outlier on this. Police departments in Cheektowaga, Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office specifically and strictly prohibit officers from associating with convicted felons and other undesirable people. New York State Police regulations bar troopers from any association whatsoever with people who have crossed the criminal justice system.

That’s as it should be. The public needs to be able to trust that its law enforcement officers are not being paid by or consorting with people who have a documented disdain for the law. And, as the recent attack on William C. Sager Jr. shows, trust has to be the result of rules, not hopes.

Sager, a 28-year-old member of the Air National Guard, was shoved down the steps at Molly’s Pub on May 11 and was left with what are feared to be permanent brain injuries. A convicted felon, Jeffrey J. Basil, the manager of Molly’s, is charged with that crime, but two police officers, Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei, were on the scene and in Basil’s employ as bar security.

In the wake of the assault, Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda prohibited city police officers from working off-duty jobs outside local bars. That’s a good start, but the bigger step won’t be so easy.

That’s because, unlike other police departments, Buffalo’s has no rules prohibiting cops from associating with unsavory characters and, plainly, some of them are prepared to take advantage of that lapse. The contract needs to be altered so that Buffalo residents don’t have to worry about who their police officers are palling around with.

It’s not that the city hasn’t tried. In the late 1980s, it inserted language stating that “employees shall not consort or knowingly associate with persons generally known to have a reputation of criminal conduct or association or frequent places where they are known to congregate, except in the performance of their assigned duties.”

It was a sensible restriction, but it was stricken after the police officers’ union successfully fought it on the grounds that the city inserted the clause without negotiating the change.

That was a big mistake on the city’s part, but it is also a mistake by the union to tolerate conduct by its members that inevitably undermines public confidence in the entire police force, no matter that most cops would never think of conducting themselves in an unprofessional manner.

Approached for comment on the situation, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Kevin M. Kennedy, was brusque. “I don’t want to talk. I have nothing to say to you,” he told a reporter.

That’s fine. Nothing requires Kennedy to explain to the public that pays his members their salaries. But common sense and decency do require him to act, and the city as well. A contract provision similar to the language that was stricken decades ago needs to be reinserted by mutual consent.

There needs to be no long negotiations and no thought of compensation on this matter. If the job of the police is to protect and serve, officers should start by protecting their own reputation in the community.

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