Buffalo lawmakers attending the first meeting of the newly revived Police Oversight Committee took care on Tuesday not to appear as if they were antagonizing Police Department officials, even as they acknowledged they have concerns about the behavior of certain officers.
Their delicate dance lasted 90 minutes in Council Chambers.
Council members asked department officials about training, the rights of private citizens who videotape police officers, and the department’s process for investigating suspected misdeeds committed by police personnel.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, accompanied by 14 department administrators, told the lawmakers “we’re very, very proactive on discipline.”
“The vast majority of officers do the right thing every day,” Derenda said.
From the outset, the Council made clear the committee wouldn’t be an investigative body. And city lawmakers took pains to say they believe the vast majority of officers do the right thing.
No one on the Council believes “that we have a police force that is out of control,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
Council members said they are most concerned about the relationship between the public and the department, in part because detectives rely on tips from the public to solve crimes. Then came the dollars and cents concern: The city must pay for court settlements to victims of police misconduct.
Committee Chairman David A. Rivera, a former police officer who represents the Niagara District, asked the first question, aimed at allowing Derenda to explain that many of the investigations into bad behavior by officers are initiated by the department.
Derenda said the department’s Internal Affairs Division has conducted more investigations since he took over as commissioner in 2010.
Rivera disclosed he met with Derenda and the union that represents officers before Tuesday’s meeting. Based on his discussions with union representatives, he expressed concern about the level of training for police officers.
Even with some recent troubling incidents involving officers, the Council wasn’t sure it needed to revive the long-dormant Police Oversight Committee. But Pridgen decided to schedule a meeting, and he put Rivera in charge. Pridgen brought up incidents about police behavior that constituents brought to him, and he said the department has some “bad apples.”
“We cannot ignore that because they are tainting people who are really great,” he said.
Pridgen asked that at the next meeting, Derenda return with a plan for a community survey on attitudes about the department; an answer to whether installing cameras in police cars is feasible; plans for sensitivity and other training; and how to communicate to the public about the consequences officers face when they are disciplined.
He also wants officers trained on the rights of citizens to videotape police and what should be done if officers need a video file for evidence, short of asking someone to turn over their entire mobile phone.
In addition to adding mandatory training, the department is also reviewing policies regarding officers’ outside employment.
Derenda said the city is working to include a residency requirement for new officers in the next labor contract, in response to Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who said the city is better off with officers who live within its borders.
Another police-related item came before the Council on Tuesday.
Pridgen is calling for a special meeting with the city’s Law Department to discuss the 2008 firing of Police Officer Cariol Horne. She was fired following a violent arrest during which she and another officer turned on each other. She claimed the other officer was choking a suspect during the arrest, while the other officer said she interfered with him as he dealt with a combative suspect. She was fired after a disciplinary proceeding that reviewed her on-duty confrontation with the officer.
The Council agreed to hold a special meeting July 8. Council members Joseph Golombek, Richard A. Fontana and Christopher P. Scanlon voted against it.