Share this article

print logo

Crash involving sheriff’s detective raises troubling questions about policies

What is the value of procedure if it’s not followed? It’s an important question that arises in the aftermath of the crash in which an undercover sheriff’s detective smashed his unmarked Chevrolet Impala into the back of a parked SUV and then acted as though he was covering something up.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Department has procedures in place for just such a case. They were ignored. What’s more, no one is offering any explanations or information about how and why a law enforcement officer put lives at risk early on April 2.

The public that bought the car needs that explanation. The crash occurred around 1:30 a.m. on a clear, dry night. The road was straight and flat. Visibility was fine. And the driver does not seem to have braked at all before the crash.

He told Buffalo police officers who responded that deer had bounded into his path, but the direction in which he swerved raises questions about that. Later he wrote that he did not see the parked SUV until he hit it. Only 100 feet beyond the SUV was a stop sign that he was evidently about to run.

Despite all of this, police gave no sobriety test and issued no traffic tickets. For several more hours, the undercover detective kept the crash secret from his employer. He didn’t alert the sheriff’s watch commander, as internal policies demand. Had he done so, the commander would have driven to the scene and notified the department’s own crash investigators.

That’s just the start. The demolished car was towed to the city impound lot instead of the sheriff’s garage in Alden. Two days later, the detective, without using a county towing contractor, had the car taken to the Alden garage, where supervisors insisted the detective report the crash through official channels. That was when he finally decided to offer an explanation to his superiors.

Red flags are flying all over this event. The issues they raise can be summed up in a few questions: Why would an innocent person go to all of this trouble? Why would cops on the scene not do the common thing and test for sobriety? Why would the undercover deputy wait days to report an accident that injured no one?

This is not just a matter for Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, who needs to get to the bottom of these inconsistencies, but also for Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who needs to explain why his officers cooperated in what appears to be a subterfuge by the undercover deputy.

More than that, there appears to be a need to create more reliable policies that bar such “professional courtesy” when police are dealing with other officers, and then to impose sufficient penalties to deter violations. This is otherwise known as enforcing the law.

In the meantime, the public deserves a clear explanation of what happened last month, why policies were not followed and what the repercussions of that failure are going to be.