A special unit formed by the Buffalo Police Department is disbanding. The Strike Force was formed to tackle drugs, guns and gangs in the city's high-crime neighborhoods but came under fire for its tactics and was criticized by some who claim it unfairly targeted minorities.
Investigative Post, an independent journalism organization that occasionally partners with WBFO, confirmed with its police sources Friday that the Strike Force will be halted effective March 12. The 15 officers serving in the unit will be reassigned.
"It's unclear where they'll be reassigned but this, to me, is a sign of new priorities by the interim commissioner," said Daniela Porat, an Investigative Post journalist who looked into some of the Strike Force's work last year.
She studied ten cases in which charges were dismissed because of what judges deemed to be illegal stops-and-searches conducted as part of the investigation.
"In two of the cases that I looked at, judges suppressed the evidence in part because the testimony that the officers had given was questionable," Porat said. "I had one case where a judge described the officer's testimony as 'inventive.'"
While the Strike Force focused on high-crime neighborhoods, many community activists and critics suggest police were unfairly focusing on minorities.
"Many of the city's areas where there is a lot of crime also happen to be areas where people of color live, people who are suffering from other issues that can't be dealt with just by aggressive policing," Porat said. "There was a sense that people of color, Black and Latino people, were being targeted just because of the color of their skin and because of the neighborhood they happen to live in."
WBFO attempted unsuccessfully to contact a police spokesman for comment.
While Porat sees the end of the Strike Force as a hint of a change of direction by interim commissioner Byron Lockwood, she suggested he has more work to do to ease tensions between police and many neighborhoods.
"I think a lot of people are still quite upset over the rulings on the two incidents of officer-involved deaths this past year," she said. "That has certainly diminished even more the trust between communities of color and the police."
Buffalo Police also have a Housing Unit which focuses on criminal activity in the city's public housing neighborhoods but also came under scrutiny for its tactics. According to Investigative Post, the future of that unit is unknown.