The Buffalo Common Council is pushing for change in the city's police department, some longstanding issues and some growing out of the current string of protests across the world about police violence.
While the Council met virtually Tuesday, members knew some of the most significant events of recent weeks have occurred right out front of City Hall on Niagara Square, as city police squared off with protesters.
As police officials watched from near the top of the new headquarters, sometimes police and protesters took a knee together and sometimes it turned violent. That included Thursday, when a local activist was put in the hospital after an incident with two officers who now face felony assault charges.
Council Majority Leader and retired cop David Rivera said cops face punishment for a bad record.
"If you use physical force that isn't warranted, they can go into your file. If you have a number of cases in your file, they can go into your file and it can be used against you. And that is a deterrent, believe it or not," Rivera said. "When I went through the academy, I was shaken by things that can happen, the negative things that can happen to a police officer if they do the wrong thing."
That is particularly true now, as the New York State Legislature repealed 50-a, the security lock on records of police misconduct and discipline. Once signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it would open all information about an officer, from children to bad behavior, to public view. That is supported in the Council.
Lawmakers spent about an hour Tuesday talking about issues over which it has some control, like changing police procedures to protect officers who stop other officers from violent acts — what is called the duty to intervene — and asking questions of the department's command officers.
That is why the Council voted to ask the State Attorney General to take another look at the Cariol Horne case. Horne maintains she was fired as an officer for intervening to stop another officer from attacking someone who was just arrested. She also lost her chance for a pension. The other officer eventually did some jail time in a different attack and is retired on his pension.
Councilmember Chris Scanlon said there is a Police Oversight Committee meeting set for late July, but he wants it sooner.
"In light of recent events, I think that seven, eight weeks, nearly two months, is far too long to wait for answers from the administration of the Buffalo Police Department," Scanlon said. "The public is demanding reform. They are demanding answers. And I believe during these times we have to shoulder that responsibility, ask those tough questions of that administration and assist in facilitating change."
The Common Council usually sets twice-annual oversight committee meetings around the schedules of the police command staff. During Tuesday's session, councilmembers said they want a meeting within days, not months, and said a virtual session makes it easier than walking across Niagara Square. There will also be four committee meetings a year.