A relatively small group of people who attended a recent a public hearing on policing in Buffalo insisted there major problems that must be addressed. One after another, people who attended the Tuesday night forum told stories of problem encounters with police. Several retired officers agreed work is needed.
The discussion at the West Side Community Center could be a major issue in this year's mayoral election, as all four opponents to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown showed up to talk about what they would do about police, if elected. All said they would make big changes, ranging from major increases in training to who runs the Police Department to how it is run.
The encounters retold by attendees were not usually violent, but badly handled by police.
Karen Powell said she has had several troublesome encounters, in her personal and professional life. For example, Powell said her Elmwood Avenue business had problems with the business across the street from her, so she called police.
"This all being very professional and the next thing I know, the owner of the business across the street comes out and they got my information and the police right away, it's, 'Hi, hey man. How's it going?'" she said. "To me, this felt like this old buddy system. It was clear. And that's been my experience, that it hasn't done any good to call people."
Retired officer Idella Abram told the meeting there are systemic racial problems in this city of many races. She admitted officers treat people differently.
"They said I wasn't a team player because I treated all people the same. I didn't see a color," Abrams said. "You couldn't stop four people who were white and say they were going to work and that's why they ran that stop sign - and then, as soon as a black guy did the same thing, gave you the same story, then the officer wanted to write him a ticket."
Community Police Officer Joseph Szafranski said body cameras would help. He said the cameras clear officers most of the time, but admitted they sometimes show problems.
"Say he was justified and that camera proves that or you say, 'Oh, Jesus, what did that officer just do?' and, when we see those events," Szafranski said. "I just think to myself, 'Man, that makes my job a lot tougher because now I'm going back into the community that I'm saying we're doing the right thing and I've got to explain an incident that I didn't take part in and myself or that my department and my city didn't take part in."
The meeting was sponsored by the Western New York Peace Center, the latest in a series of conversations about policing in the city.