Claims by Buffalo's police union that the city is trying to block more environmental tests at a shuttered police station and might be orchestrating a cover-up are "absolutely ridiculous," Mayor Byron W. Brown insisted Monday.
His comments were made as the city opened a temporary police station in the Riverside neighborhood. Earlier in the day, the Police Benevolent Association announced it was going to court over access to a Hertel Avenue police station that was closed last month after mold and other problems were detected.
Police Union President Robert P. Meegan Jr. had earlier told The Buffalo News he believes evidence shows the city is engaging in a "cover-up" to hide health hazards in the building that may have caused sickness among officers.
Meegan claimed Brown's administration is making it "almost impossible" for the union to gain access to the shuttered building at 669 Hertel Ave. so it can commission its own independent environmental tests. Meegan said the union wants a court to give it reasonable access to the building. He complained that the city wants to force the union to obtain a $1 million insurance policy and comply with other onerous conditions before gaining access.
Brown dismissed the claims.
"What this is is just grandstanding," Brown told reporters who gathered at the former All Saints School on Esser Avenue near Chadduck Avenue, where temporary police operations were set up Monday. "[The lawsuit] is a colossal waste of time and money -- completely unnecessary."
Meegan said many officers believe the city is trying to hide environmental problems inside the Northwest District Police Station, which has been closed for a month. He said the city had crews perform various cleaning chores that included replacing air filters before it brought in a Clarence company to perform environmental tests.
"That's like cleaning up a crime scene, totally wiping it down, then saying, 'Hey, let's search for evidence. Let's get fingerprints,' " Meegan told The News.
Brown countered that the partial cleaning of air ducts would have had no impact on the results of environmental tests the city commissioned -- tests that gave the building a clean bill of health.
Some police officers have said there have been elevated levels of illness among staffers who worked out of the building on Hertel west of Elmwood Avenue. The city closed the police station Feb. 12, the same day officials learned an officer had filed a complaint that the building had mold growing in it.
A number of officers suspect the problem is more severe, claiming the station might contain hazardous material that has caused cancer among a handful of people over the years.
But city officials continue to maintain that a battery of environmental tests conducted for more than 60 harmful compounds uncovered no potential health hazards. While four types of fungi were found in three areas of the station, including black mold, the report issued by the Clarence-based Leader Group found no adverse health impact to employees.
Earlier this month, city officials said that the police union would be free to conduct its own environmental tests. Brown said that the union is still free to have its own tests conducted and that the city is only asking for the union to abide by a "standard" building access agreement that addresses liability and legal issues.
"The PBA is obviously looking to pick a fight," Brown told reporters. During a meeting Monday morning with the Common Council's Police Oversight Committee, acting Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said it's possible the police station will remain at the Riverside-area school for up to six months.
For the past several weeks, police officers have worked out of a former school on Minnesota Avenue in the University District. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who played a key role in finding the All Saints School site, felt the previous police quarters was too far from neighborhoods in Black Rock, Riverside and the West Side.