Members of the Buffalo Police Department covered their name tags while guarding Mayor Byron Brown’s house Wednesday evening, a dubious practice seen across the U.S. during the recent police brutality protests.
Photos taken by WBFO show at least three officers with dark tape or fabric over their uniform name tags during Wednesday's protest, which marched to Brown’s private residence in the city’s Hamlin Park Historic District. Two of the officers also appeared to have patched the thin blue line flag, associated with the Blue Lives Matter movement, onto their uniforms.
Mike DeGeorge, spokesperson for both Brown and the police department, did not immediately return a request for comment, but said in an email late Thursday evening he would look into the matter. John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, did not return a phone call.
Buffalo police’s policy manual says that officers must wear their name tag on the “outside of the outermost garments” while in uniform, and that any mutilation or destruction of the name tag must be immediately reported through the chain of command. If the police commissioner determines carelessness was involved, the officer could face a disciplinary penalty.
As for the thin blue line flag, the policy manual specifically says that officers cannot add patches to their uniform or wear “unauthorized insignia.”
John Elmore felt it was unwise for officers to cover their name tags, considering the public’s trust of police is currently at “an all-time low.”
Elmore is a Buffalo attorney and a former New York State Police trooper. He wrote a book called “Fighting for Your Life: The African-American Criminal Justice Survival Guide” and has held classes showing young people of color how to survive encounters with the police.
“It’s scary to the public because if a person has a confrontation with a police officer, they should know the police officer’s name, they should know the police officer’s badge number,” he said after WBFO showed him the photos Thursday. “The reason that there are police regulations requiring name tags are to protect the public from police abuse and so that police officers, if they are out of line, the public can identify them by their name.”
Since then, Buffalo police have shown solidarity with Torgalski and Robert McCabe, who have been suspended without pay and charged with second-degree assault. The two officers’ fellow Emergency Response Team members resigned from the special unit, while dozens of off-duty officers came out in support when the two were arraigned in Buffalo City Court. Some of the off-duty officers even blocked media members’ cameras.
The incidents have placed a national spotlight on Buffalo, with Brown appearing on “CBS This Morning” and a CNN crew filming protests at Niagara Square.
However, Buffalo is far from the only city where officers have covered their name tags during the recent protests inspired by Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd last month.
The National Lawyers Guild has threatened to sue the New York City Police Department for covering their badges, while Chicago police are investigating at least one officer after photos on social media showed him covering his name tag and badge number.
The now-former chief of police in Portland, Oregon permitted his officers to cover their name tags with tape showing their personnel numbers. A city spokesperson said this was because officers were being “doxxed,” meaning their personal information, like their home addresses and cell phone numbers, were being released online.
Officers displaying the thin blue line flag has also been a controversial practice. While supporters say it’s meant to show police solidarity and is not a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, others have raised concerns it’s a symbol of white supremacy.
With everything happening in Buffalo, Elmore wonders whether officers covering their name tags outside Brown’s house was an act of passive resistance against the mayor, who has announced numerous reforms over the last few weeks.
“It makes you wonder how much control the mayor has over the police department that he's in charge of when they're ultimately defying him in front of his house,” Elmore said.
(Editor's note: This story had been updated to include excerpts from Buffalo police's policy manual on name tags and patches.)