The head of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association took offense at portions of a city plan to improve policing, adding the police union has already made efforts toward reform and shouldn't be viewed as an obstacle.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint just one of the many flaws with the City of Buffalo’s proposed police reform plan along with some incorrect assertions,” PBA President John Evans in a statement Tuesday.
Mayor Byron W. Brown released the plan on Monday.
The union has already put forth various proposals in contract talks with the city concerning residency requirements, officer evaluations and training in a wide range of areas, Evans said.
The problem lies with the city, he said.
“Unfortunately, the city has refused to engage in any substantive collective bargaining discussions, citing the pandemic," he said. "Perhaps now that the city has experienced a financial windfall from the federal bailout, we can discuss these matters, including reforms in a meaningful matter.”
The PBA has consistently communicated its willingness to join discussions and efforts to improve policing to better serve the community, he said. But if the union is not going to be engaged in this process, “then the reforms in the proposed plan that require our support will not be forthcoming.”
Evans also took aim at part of the plan that referred to citizens across the country and in Buffalo protesting the “deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers.”
“As rising crime rates in the city of Buffalo indicate, the killing and injuring of Black and other people of color in the city of Buffalo is being done against each other – not by Buffalo police officers,” he said.
The city’s plan comes in response to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive order requiring local governments to improve their police departments in the wake of the George Floyd protests last year. After public review, the document will be submitted to Cuomo by April 1.
The report calls for a stronger Commission on Citizens’ Rights and Community Relations to foster better relations between the police and residents.
Recommendations also include steps the city has already taken as part of Brown's Buffalo Reform Agenda since last year's protests. Those steps include requiring police officers to intercede if another officer uses excessive force; additional police officer training in de-escalation tactics; limited use of “no-knock” search warrants; the banning of chokeholds; the formation of a behavioral health team; and ending the practice of detained arrests for low-level offenses.
Two of the suggestions in the report call for career residency requirements for newly hired police officers, as well as a performance evaluation program for all officers in any new labor contract with the Buffalo PBA. The union would have to agree to changes.
As for an “assertion” in the report that implies police officers turn a “blind eye” if an officer sees wrongdoing by another officer, Evans said it has always been a police officer’s duty to intervene in such circumstances.
The Buffalo Police Department’s duty to intervene had been a policy since 2019, and then the city made it a law last October.
Evans warned that banning the use of chokeholds and other tactics to subdue suspects “is simply going to increase the number of injuries to non-compliant suspects through the increased use of impact weapons such as batons.”
The PBA also opposes state legislation that the city supports that would limit the time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement. The legislation, Evans said, would lead to more violence in correctional institutions.
“The carnage will be far greater in the general prison population if inmates are not separated from their enemies,” he said. “More importantly, it would put correctional officers at a significantly greater risk when they have to intervene.”