The Buffalo Common Council held its latest Police Oversight Committee meeting Tuesday, during which time they heard updates from police officials on their officer body camera pilot program, their plan to apply for accreditation with New York State and the possibility of adding tasers to their array of equipment.
The accreditation process, it was explained in Common Council Chambers, usually takes up to 18 months to complete. However, police officials aim to finish the process by the end of this year.
They will need to meet 110 standards. Police officials do not plan to formally apply, though, until after they move from their current headquarters at Franklin and Church Streets to their future home inside the former Dillon Federal Courthouse.
"A lot of the accreditation centers around property and evidence storage," said Buffalo Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo. "Some of the requirements for double redundancy locks and cages, and security for the storage of that, is a step or two above that we currently have in place. Since we are moving in six months, it would be irresponsible financially to spend money in our existing building to update those mechanisms. We anticipate moving before the end of the summer."
Rinaldo added that once the police moves into its new headquarters, it will update use-of-force and firearms training.
"When we move into our new headquarters at the Dillon facility, we have two rooms that have been built out as simulators that will allow us to engage in real-life shoot-don't shoot scenarios, using a simulator that will then be able to instruct the officers in what they did appropriately and what they didn't do appropriately," he explained.
The police department's recently-launched body camera pilot program was also discussed in Council Chambers. About 20 officers will be testing two different kinds of camera systems in two-month periods, lawmakers were told. Following those two test runs, officials will evaluate and make a decision on which to choose. Police administrators hope to have an 550 officers equipped with body cameras by next year.
Captain Rinaldo explained the circumstances during which officers will turn off their cameras. They include while officers are in places of worship and in hospitals, the latter for reasons of health information privacy laws. They will also be turned off in cases of sexual assault investigations and when a domestic violence victim asks to remain anonymous.
Officers will be allowed to review but not delete video filed. Captain Rinaldo also explained that, following discussions with the Erie County District Attorney, certain video will not be released to the public if it's to be used as evidence in a court case.
"When a department starts releasing video ahead of a court case, you could potentially be jurors and other people to come to conclusions before the case is heard in court," he said. "Cases are supposed to be tried and heard in the court, not in the media."
Some speakers, including community activist Samuel Herbert, insisted officers need to have the cameras activated the moment an officer begins a work shift. Councilmember Richard Fontana, when asked following the committee meeting, expressed satisfaction with the police department's explanations.
'Those are based on industry standards," he said. "As long as they're widely followed, I'm fine with it."
The prospect of adding tasers to the police department's arsenal was also discussed. Captain Rinaldo explained that police officials recently met with TASER, the manufacturer, and forwarded concerns including risks of death to those receiving the stunning jolt of the weapon and whether they'll be effective during the winter months, when a suspect is more likely to be wearing layers of clothing.
"We went over some of the national things we've seen and they're in the process of responding to some of those questions with further information, as well as providing us with financial costs that will be associated with the program," Rinaldo said.