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Gipson's resignation worsens plight of citizen police panel

A Buffalo police reorganization panel that has been dogged by controversy suffered another blow Thursday when officials announced the resignation of former Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson.

Gipson's exit from the citizen advisory panel followed a wave of resignations earlier this month in the wake of the arrest of the panel's then-interim chairman on drug charges.

Gipson said he decided a week ago to step down. He noted that "so many people" had resigned and that other vacancies remained unfilled.

"I just thought that the commission's effectiveness was compromised," Gipson said.

Earlier Thursday, the current interim chairman of the Joint Commission to Examine Police Reorganization contended that Gipson quit because of time constraints. Joseph Mascia insisted that the latest resignation had nothing to do with fallout from the March 3 arrest of Ricky M. Allen Sr.

Common Council Member David A. Rivera of the Niagara District, a retired Buffalo police detective who nominated Gipson to the panel, called the resignation "very disappointing."

"He lent a lot of credibility to this commission," Rivera said. "It's going to be hard to find someone with his experience who is willing to serve."

Rivera said he will begin to make some inquiries in hope of finding a law enforcer with command experience who would accept an appointment to the commission.

The panel has been meeting weekly since January and has been tasked by the Council to make recommendations for improving police operations by the end of the year. The panel is supposed to have 24 voting members. It currently has only 12 members due a rash of resignations and Mayor Byron W. Brown's refusal to fill the four seats that are his responsibility.

Earlier this month, former Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins resigned. He cited several reasons, including Allen's arrest.

Two Council members announced last week that they won't fill four vacancies until the city establishes a "protocol" for commissions, including a vetting process to screen nominees. The Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, Council member from Ellicott, and University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said the city has no set rules that steer the creation of various commissions.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. has recommended a nominee to fill his lone vacancy on the panel. Each lawmaker has two appointments. Golombek said North Buffalo resident Thomas G. Smeeding has been active in the Chatham Avenue Block Club.

"He is a concerned community member who does not have a political ax to grind with the mayor, Council or Police Department," Golombek said. "His first and major concern is improving policing in the City of Buffalo."

Mascia, a Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority board member, said he remains confident that the commission will make valuable recommendations to the Council and the mayor by the end of the year.

"A month from now, all this controversy will be water under the bridge," Mascia said, "because people will see that this commission is continuing with its work."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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