A small number of citizens turned out to ask real questions of real cops about how policing works in Buffalo, during a meeting sponsored by Masten District Common Councilmember Ulysees Wingo.
Those who were in the auditorium of the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts had a chance to meet some of the top-level cops in the councilmember's district, led by Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Chief George Gast and district Chiefs Barbara Lark and Carmen Menza. They also had a chance to meet some of the community police officers who are on the street every day in B District and E District.
Lurking in the background was the still unresolved death in custody of 20-year-old Wardel "Meech" Davis, with toxicology tests results still to come. Wingo said he knew one of the officers on leave because of the death, calling him a mentor to youth.
"He inserted himself in a lot of children's lives. He is a husband and a father. He is a family man," Wingo said. "I do know that. I do know for three consecutive years in my district, he would host events - pushup contests and the like - to engage youth in positive activities."
Several of the questions at the event asked, "What do I have to do?" Issues raised were people in abandoned houses, who to complain to if a police officer does not provide the service requested and annoying kids getting off a school bus and hassling a resident near the bus stop. Buffalo Community Policing/Special Events Capt. Steve Nichols said his community police officers can handle some of that.
"The community police officers are sort of like your family physician. They have the time, the resources and the connections to be able to follow up and not only take the care of a problem that you might have, but maybe to head off some problems and prevent them," Nichols said. "They are always available. There is one working on each shift. There is a community police officer working seven days a week in each district and they have the time to take care of the problems."
Compare that to patrol officers, he said, who are like the emergency room physician. Sometimes, one questioner was told, it is hard to define when police can do something.