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NFTA can't investigate itself Transit agency is taking the right step in moving to create independent panel

A lot of people -- including us -- aren't very surprised that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has cleared a transit police officer in the pepper-spraying of a protester in April. We don't know that the conclusion is wrong -- that may come out in future litigation -- but with the authority basically investigating itself, the chances of a different outcome seemed remote.

What is needed is an independent body to investigate allegations of misuse of authority, and the NFTA doesn't have that. The good news is that it wants to create such a panel. It should proceed with that plan quickly, with the goal of maintaining public confidence in operations of the transit police.

Lacking that kind of independent review, the NFTA basically conducted an in-house examination of the events of April 8, in which Transit Police Officer Adam M. Brodsky pepper-sprayed Nate Buckley during an anti-war protest outside a downtown Buffalo bank.

While a YouTube video appeared to show the pepper-spraying to be unwarranted, NFTA officials say another version of the video, plus bank security video, show the police officer was justified in his actions. Between the criminal charges filed against Buckley and the civil lawsuit he is considering, the facts are likely to come out eventually.

In the meantime, it is heartening to see authority officials acknowledging that they need to fix the procedural and public relations problems that inevitably arise when an agency is called upon to investigate itself.

Acting NFTA Chairman Henry M. Sloma said he and Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel want to create an integrity unit that would be charged with reviewing all agency operations. "We are accountable to the public," said Sloma, "and we want to remain accountable."

That's a fine start, but there's a long way between here and there. How would such a unit be organized? Who would appoint its members and to whom would they be accountable? Integrity starts with independence. A publicly supported board would also have to reflect the community in its makeup, and its mission would have to be clearly stated.

We urge the NFTA to proceed with this plan immediately. Police officers do crucial and often dangerous work and they deserve the public's support. But, to some degree, that support has to be earned.

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