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Department 'stonewalling' dismays head of police review commission

The Police Department is stonewalling efforts by a citizens commission to recommend changes aimed at improving public safety, the panel's interim chairman alleged Thursday.

The head of the Joint Commission to Examine Police Reorganization said he is dismayed that the department has yet to release basic data despite repeated requests from the all-volunteer panel.

Joseph Mascia said the commission has been asking for the information for months, including crime statistics broken down by district, a map of the five police districts and an organizational chart of police personnel.

He said the study panel will be unable to fulfill a Common Council request to present recommendations by the end of December. The commission will seek a three-month extension, and Mascia said delays by the Police Department in releasing information is a key reason.

"It's getting frustrating, because we've received more information from [law enforcement] people in Albany than we have from the Buffalo Police Department," Mascia said. "It's very odd, because we're trying to help the department. I just don't understand."

Mascia said the information being sought could not reasonably be considered sensitive. In fact, much of it has been discussed in public forums, such as the number of officers who are off work due to injuries and the number of vacancies.

The information has been requested in writing and verbally numerous times since the advisory group began its work early this year. Mascia said that a letter detailing specific requests for information was sent to Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda on April 18 and that he recently hand-delivered a follow-up request.

"We're trying to be polite. We didn't want to turn this into a dispute. But it's getting frustrating," Mascia said.

His complaint has attracted the attention of the Common Council, which created the 25-member panel to conduct the first community-based review of police operations in nearly two decades. South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, the lead sponsor of the study, said he's running out of patience with Derenda.

"The Police Department has to understand that they work for the citizens of the City of Buffalo," Kearns said.

Department spokesman Michael DeGeorge said, "Commissioner Derenda has reviewed the request, and some of the information will be released shortly. But the commissioner does have concerns regarding their request for other sensitive information."

The commission got off to a controversial start after its then-interim chairman was arrested on drug charges. The allegations leveled against Ricky M. Allen Sr. triggered a series of resignations from the panel.

Two well-known retired law enforcement officers -- former City Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and former Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins -- resigned in March. The panel currently has 16 members. Mayor Byron W. Brown has refused to fill his four seats, and there are several vacant seats that are designated as Council appointees.

When Allen served as the panel's interim chairman, police claimed he tried to get his hands on highly sensitive information about investigations into gangs and drug dealers, police told The Buffalo News. In court papers, the U.S. Attorney's Office alleged that Allen passed some information about one investigation on to an alleged drug kingpin associated with the Afro Dogs.

But Mascia said the commission is not asking for any "sensitive" data.

"We're asking for basic information -- not stuff that deals with the atomic bomb," he said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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