For years, watchdog groups wanted a way to make sure the Buffalo Police Department was following best practices and training officers adequately.
They got their wish on Thursday. The department learned it had gained accreditation through a New York State program that sets uniform standards for law enforcement.
"Today, the Buffalo Police Department stands proud as the largest city accredited law enforcement agency in New York State,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said in a statement, adding that Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood officially received the accreditation Thursday in Albany. "... We hope this milestone gives residents and visitors a renewed sense of confidence."
"I thank Commissioner Lockwood and his management team for guiding this achievement," the mayor said in a post on Twitter.
A 2016 report on police and community relations by the Buffalo nonprofit Partnership for the Public Good urged the department to comply with the city charter by getting accredited, either through the state or a national agency.
"Clearly, accreditation is no magic bullet, but as part of a comprehensive shift of philosophy and practices, it is well worth pursuing and is required by law," the report recommended.
The department announced in July 2017 that it would begin the process of seeking accreditation through the state's program. At the time, the department was one of 12 of the state’s 50 largest police departments that wasn’t accredited. The New York City Police Department, the state's largest law enforcement agency, also was not. But Albany, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers all had accredited police departments. The Erie County Sheriff's Office is accredited, although it lost its accreditation a few years ago before it became accredited again in 2013. So is the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. Police departments in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Evans, West Seneca, the University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and both the town and city of Tonawanda are accredited by the state.
A historic achievement for @BPDAlerts! The department is now the largest accredited law enforcement agency in NYS. Commissioner Lockwood officially received the accreditation today in Albany. I thank Commissioner Lockwood and his management team for guiding this achievement. pic.twitter.com/nHFxsB2LsO
— Byron W. Brown (@MayorByronBrown) June 6, 2019
After Lockwood became commissioner in 2018, he assigned Lt. Joseph Fahey and later Lt. Jim Stabler to spearhead the effort to make sure the department of about 700 uniformed officers met the 110 standards set by the state, Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said.
The department was in compliance with most of the state's benchmarks, Rinaldo said. The biggest challenge was adding more layers of security when storing evidence, Rinaldo said. Moving the department from its old headquarters into the new public safety building on Court Street "helped facilitate our ability to meet those standards," he said.
The state's accreditation program started in 1989 and set standards for everything from record keeping and storage of evidence to annual training and protocols on dealing with hate crime. The state does not require agencies to be part of it, but it does encourage participation.
It's a thorough and time-consuming undertaking, the program's officials acknowledge. Seeking accreditation for the first time can take six months to up to two years. The agencies must seek re-accreditation every five years. It took the Buffalo Police Department about a year and a half.
Although New York State doesn't require police agencies to be accredited, Buffalo's city charter does require it.
"The commissioner of police shall seek, obtain and maintain accreditation of the department of police by an agency or organization generally recognized and accepted by law enforcement officials in New York for certifying compliance with generally accepted law enforcement training, policies and procedures and other relevant techniques and methods of operation," the charter says.
Buffalo started the process of applying for accreditation in 1990 but did not complete it, according to the state.
In 1996, then-Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske announced the department would try to seek accreditation from a national agency instead, but that didn't happen, either.
In 2001, accreditation was among the list of recommendations on improving race relations in Buffalo by the city's Commission on Citizens' Rights and Community Relations.