As has been widely reported, as of mid-March there had been 45 shootings in the city of Buffalo this year, compared to 18 at the same time last year. In 2020 there was a 90% rise in shootings over 2019, which was the lowest number of shootings in seven years.
This escalation in violent crime is taking place while we are in a pandemic and people are living under restrictions to maintain social distancing; bars and restaurants have restricted hours, and people in general are encouraged to stay at home and avoid large crowds and gatherings.
One would think logically that these types of violent crime statistics would be at all-time lows in Buffalo; however, the reverse is the reality. I shudder to think what is going to happen when all bars and restaurants can go back to staying open until 4 a.m. and people are congregating in large groups, especially as we approach the summer months.
Many in law enforcement, including district attorneys and police chiefs across the state, continue to believe that bail reform is a major contributor to this escalation in crime. The fact is quite simple: Dangerous criminals after being arrested are back out on the street in a matter of hours. The criminals know this and as such there is no deterrent to keep them from continuing to commit crimes once they are back out on the street. This is a recipe for disaster as most of the recent shootings are gang-related and once back out on the street, there is retribution to pay.
This leads us to some of the proposed reforms in the city’s recently unveiled police reform plan.
Before we are accused of being an obstacle to reforms, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association wants to be very clear that it has initiated and put forth various reforms in discussions with the city. These include residency requirements, officer evaluations and continuing professional training in a wide range of areas, including de-escalation and anti-bias training.
As with any reform proposal, the devil is in the details. One recommendation is a pilot program in which those who commit low-level offenses, such as drug possession, drug sales and prostitution, would not be arrested and instead sent to community-based intervention programs. This approach raises the questions of, where does decriminalization start and where does it end and where does law enforcement start and where does it end?
The PBA has consistently communicated a desire and willingness to participate in discussions and efforts at enhancing policing to better serve our community. While some of the proposed reforms may achieve that, we firmly believe others will not.
Regardless, it is time to sit at the table to do what’s right for the community and for the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department and develop reforms that will actually accomplish both.
John Evans is president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.