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Buffalo Common Council supports Police Oversight Committee

One by one, members of the Buffalo Common Council on Tuesday talked about why they like the idea of reviving the Police Oversight Committee.

A week ago, city lawmakers held a different view and said they had no plans to hold a meeting of the committee, which has not met in several years.

Investigations by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division and the FBI would be sufficient responses to two recent incidents raising questions of police conduct, they said.

Tuesday, the Council members acknowledged the Council’s duty to ask questions, as well as to protect the city from costly lawsuits, as they unanimously supported reviving the dormant committee. Still, the committee will not delve into police brutality investigations.

“It’s our duty to make sure our citizens are informed and protected,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.

Pridgen could have reinstated the oversight committee on his own, but he asked his colleagues to vote for it.

Then he selected Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera to head the committee.

Rivera, who worked 25 years as a Buffalo police officer, said the oversight committee’s goal “is not to point a finger at them.” “I know what police officers go through,” Rivera said after the meeting. “A lot of stress, anxiety.”

The committee – whose membership is open to any lawmaker who wants to be on it – will focus on training and legislation but not day-to-day department operations or police brutality investigations, Pridgen said.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek said he did not want the committee to become a forum for anyone with complaints about the police to air their grievances. But he said there are legitimate questions about whether off-duty police officers should be allowed to provide security where alcohol is served, including events as lawn fetes.

The committee will meet for the first time during the week of June 9, after Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and his staff have been contacted about attending, Rivera said.

In other business:

• Lawmakers requested permission from the State Legislature to adjudicate its own traffic tickets and keep the revenue. The measure has lingered in Albany for years. The city has budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year more than five times the revenue it usually collects from traffic tickets.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said Tuesday that the Assembly “will definitely pass the bill this session.”

“We’ve had conversations with the traditional opponents,” she said. “I think we’re able to satisfy everyone’s concerns.”

The measure passed in the Senate in prior years, and Sen. Mark Grisanti said he believes it will pass again.

To win support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Grisanti said language will be added to the bill to prevent the state from losing revenue this year. In the past, Cuomo has not supported bills that would affect state revenue after the state budget had already been passed. That would mean the bill wouldn’t take effect until the city’s 2014-15 budget year is nearly over. The city is counting on $3.2 million in revenue from adjudicating its own tickets in 2014-15, up from $500,000 last year.

• Landmark designation for Willert Park Courts - A.D. Price housing project was denied. The city’s Preservation Board recommended the designation, but Pridgen said that neighbors of the property opposed it, though they do want to see artwork embedded in the walls preserved.

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk was the only lawmaker to vote against denying the designation.

• Lawmakers adopted a resolution by Golombek to study public financing of elections.