Common Councilmembers say police-social worker partnership isn't enough for mental health calls

Sep 16, 2020

Street protests and the shooting of a mentally ill man on Saturday are heating up the relationship between Buffalo's Common Council and Mayor Byron Brown - but not in a good way.

On Monday, the mayor said Buffalo Police next month will have a team of social workers during the week to help deal with personal crises on the street. How to pay for the mental health workers isn't clear.

Brown also said police don't have Tasers because the department doesn't have the money. The mayor suggested that was because of cuts in the police budget.

Common Council Majority Leader David Rivera, a retired cop, said the Council appropriated the money and didn't know there was a problem in the purchase.

"I'm angry that I don't know anything about the Tasers, after I thought we had approved them," Rivera said. "But now we know permission to enter into a contract, don't know where the money's at, don't know if the money's in an account, don't know if the money's been spent. They have that information. We don't have it. So let's bring them in and find out."

Led by Council President Darius Pridgen, members want the Police Department to have 24/7 mental health workers stationed in headquarters so they can go immediately to a crisis scene. The current plan approved between the mayor and police union has social workers on call outside of weekday hours. Pridgen said that might take too long to respond on a winter day and the mental health workers could go to scenes in patrol cars.

Councilmember Ulysees Wingo said he also wants police officers to get mental health help.

"We have to ensure that these officers are whole themselves, too," Wingo said. "I'm not going to say that things like this can be avoided, but they can be avoided if we take the necessary steps before they happen to ensure that everyone is whole. Training is great, but what about the mental health of police officers?"

Councilmembers want police command officers to show up across Niagara Square and talk about what's going on. There is also increasing support in the Council for a civilian review board, which would take overall discipline power away from the command staff.