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Editorial: A new badge for police

The Buffalo Police Department is finally accredited. The achievement took some years and considerable planning, including the moving of headquarters, but everyone involved in making this happen has cause for pride.

With the improvements made to earn the designation, the department should be able to operate more professionally and ensure greater community support. The nonprofit Partnership for the Public Good urged the department to seek the status in a 2016 report and, more to the point, the Buffalo City Charter requires the accreditation.

The state program, launched in 1989, is not a requirement for police agencies. However, its best practices make it a must-do for most observers and include standards for record-keeping and storage of evidence, along with annual training and protocols on dealing with hate crime.

Efforts to accredit the department stretch back to 1990 when the city launched, but did not complete, the process. In 1996, then-Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske announced the department would try to gain the status from a national agency, and then nothing resulted.

The most recent effort took about 1½ years and it wasn’t easy. But, now, under the leadership of Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood, who is a strong promoter of community policing, the department has finally achieved its goal.

The Buffalo Police Department was among 12 of the state’s 50 largest police departments not accredited. Even the oft-troubled Erie County Sheriff’s Office, along with various smaller local police departments and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, are accredited.

So, why not Buffalo? The question became more acute over the years and in the troubled aftermath of police-involved shootings around the nation. One such shooting in Buffalo two years ago prompted then-Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to call for the department to be accredited.

In its 2016 report, the Partnership for the Public Good stated: “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 department announced in July 2017 that it would start the process, which involved moving the department into a new building. The campus, which combines police and fire headquarters, allows for better storage of evidence which, critically, helps preserve the chain of custody.

Lockwood assigned Lt. Joseph Fahey and later Lt. Jim Stabler to lead the effort to ensure that the 700 uniformed officers met the state’s 110 standards.

Earning state accreditation is another important step for Buffalo Police, along with the department’s adoption of body cameras and Tasers. These changes will serve everyone in Buffalo, including the police, themselves, whose growing professionalism will pay dividends for years. Congratulations.

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