Monday's dismissal of charges against Erie County Legislator Crystal D. Peoples has energized efforts to create a citizen review board to investigate complaints of police misconduct.
Ms. Peoples, the Legislature's majority leader, called for a separate proposition to be placed on the November ballot allowing voters to consider the creation of the citizen panel, rather than grouping it with other recommendations from the Charter Revision Commission.
About 100 of Ms. Peoples' supporters cheered her suggestion Monday at a Niagara Square rally held just moments after City Judge James A.W. McLeod dismissed charges that she allegedly interfered in an Aug. 8 police investigation of domestic violence at her neighbor's Sussex Street home.
"We need a citizen review board that has some teeth," Ms. Peoples said. "It needs the power to subpoena. We can't have the police policing themselves. That's like the fox guarding the hen house."
The Buffalo Democrat was just as quick to point out that the great majority of city police officers do an excellent job but that a small number of them bring "gender and racial biases" to work with them.
She called on Mayor Masiello to support efforts to weed out those officers who fail to serve the public in a respectful manner.
"We need to speak directly to the mayor. We didn't elect the (Police Benevolent Association) or (Police Commissioner) Rocco Diina," Ms. Peoples said in appealing to Masiello for his support.
Masiello, reached after the rally, said he favors formation of a citizen review board.
"They are absolutely right, but first we need to get beyond emotions and deal with the facts. If we have some police officers, a small percentage who aren't acting professionally, then we need to identify them and follow up with proper disciplinary actions," the mayor said.
He also called for improved "training and education of our police officers to deal with daily issues of their work."
In Ms. Peoples' case, she claims
Northeast District Police Officer James C. O'Donnell was abusive to her when she attempted to assist her neighbor Selena King.
"I think Officer James O'Donnell, in his desire to feel strong and in control, was a little threatened by my desire to support a woman I thought needed help," she said.
"I had no intention to question his authority or take control. All I wanted to do was help my neighbor," she said. "I really did not think my neighbor should be a victim twice. Firstly, there was obviously the abuse in the relationship (with her husband)."
Ms. Peoples allegedly had a confrontation with O'Donnell when she attempted to approach her neighbor, who had just complied with a police order to drop two knives.
Mrs. King, who was standing on her front porch, has said the officer swore at Ms. Peoples. Police insist the legislator used vulgar language and shoved O'Donnell. He could not be reached Monday to comment.
In a statement issued by one of her attorneys, Mark M. Jasen, Ms. Peoples said: "It is regrettable that my motives and actions were misunderstood."
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark had recommended that charges of disorderly conduct, harassment and obstruction of governmental administration be dropped.
"I think it's all unfortunate," he said. "In agreeing to dismiss the charges in the interest of justice, I think this resolves it in as equitable a manner as we can hope for. The disposition in no way finds fault with the Buffalo Police Department."
Masiello said he wants a citizen review board that will be best for both citizens and police.
"I think it is incumbent upon us to come up with a vehicle that fixes the problem and protects the best interests of the public and the best interests of the police," he said, adding that he plans to speak with various segments of the community for guidance on how a review board should be established.
Ms. Peoples said that the number of officers who mistreat the public is "minuscule" but that the problem has a huge negative impact on the entire police force.
"Everybody needs police," she said. "We live in a lawless society, but we need police to protect and serve, not abuse and judge on the spot."
Among those supporting Ms. Peoples at the rally was Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, D-Buffalo, who joined in the call for a citizen review board.
"We cannot trust the police to investigate themselves," Eve said. "If this can happen to Crystal Peoples, the highest-ranking African-American in Erie County government, it can happen to my wife."
Ms. Peoples had a number of supporters, including Detective Sgt. Byron Lockwood, president of the Afro-American Police Association, at the court appearance Monday.
"I'm here to find out what happened," said Lockwood. Noting that Legislature Chairman Charles Swanick, D-Kenmore, who is white, was sitting beside Ms. Peoples, he said: "You can bet he would never be here as a defendant but only as a supporter."
Ms. Peoples said she also plans to meet with her lawyers today to decide whether to take legal actions against the Police Department for arresting her.
Terrence D. McKelvey, another of Ms. Peoples' lawyers, said: "I would think she would have to consider the option of bringing an action against a police department where they have members who have a history of brutalizing people who frequently are not even involved in the actual incident."