When the Niagara County Legislature took up a resolution last week opposing a bill in the State Assembly that would require police officers who shoot suspects to death to be arrested for manslaughter, most members viewed it as an easy "yes" vote.
And indeed, the resolution condemning the so-called "shoot to wound" bill passed 18-1.
The one member in favor of the bill was Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls.
"My legislative colleagues live in a different world than I live in," said Kimble, the Legislature's only black member, who represents inner-city Niagara Falls.
Kimble said she and her constituents are concerned about police brutality.
She said the state Attorney General's Office is investigating numerous complaints about abuse of police power in Niagara Falls.
That was confirmed by city Police Superintendent John Chella, who said he was on the phone with the Civil Rights Division of the state Attorney General's Office last week.
But he denied that Niagara Falls has a problem with police brutality.
"It's not the Wild West, where we're shooting up everything," Chella said.
"People know the police are there to serve and protect," Kimble said. "There's a lot of bad apples in the Niagara Falls Police."
The "shoot to wound" bill, sponsored by two Brooklyn Assembly members, would require a police officer who feels he needs to pull his gun to use it to stop the suspect, not kill him.
"For example, an officer would have to try to shoot a suspect in the arm or the leg," the sponsors wrote in their bill memorandum.
Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour sent a letter earlier this month to the county's state legislators, urging them to vote against the bill.
"Police officers around the country are trained to shoot at the largest part of the suspect's body, to protect the public," Voutour wrote.
"What this bill seeks to do is criminalize a police officer doing his or her job," said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, who introduced the resolution opposing "shoot to wound."
Chella said there have been two incidents of Falls officers shooting in recent years. Both involved Officer Walter Nichols Jr.
On Feb. 7, 2009, Nichols and Officer Michael Bird were victims, both shot by Adam J. Hamilton, who had just shot his girlfriend . Another officer shot Hamilton, who was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 75 years to life in prison.
On April 17, 1997, while working as a security officer at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Nichols shot Jonah R. Drisdom of Lockport to death.
Nichols said he thought Drisdom, who had just walked out of the psychiatric unit, was going to attack him with a knife. It turned out to be a butter knife Drisdom had taken from his breakfast tray.
To settle lawsuits, the city paid the Drisdom family $225,000 and the medical center paid them an undisclosed amount. Nichols was cleared of criminal liability by a grand jury in 1997.