Council members say plan to team Buffalo Police with mental health pros can't be rushed

Sep 22, 2020

Buffalo Common Council members are working on a plan that would have the police department hire full-time mental health professional to aid officers on crisis calls. But they're not rushing to pass a resolution. In the meantime, it appeared following Tuesday's Council Legislation Committee meeting that the proposed police reform bill known as Cariol's Law might be brought to a vote the following week.

The police reform proposal known as Cariol's Law, if passed, would require officers intervene to stop acts of brutality by their colleagues. It would also protect officers who do so from any form of internal retaliation.

The proposed law is named for Cariol Horne, a former Buffalo Police officer who intervened to break a chokehold and later, upon the recommendation of an arbitrator, was dismissed.

The Council's Legislation Committee sent it to the full Council for a vote at next Tuesday's meeting. All Council members have stated they will support it.

In the meantime, lawmakers are taking their time to craft a plan regarding mental health professionals responding to crisis scenes with police officers.

Following the September 12 shooting by a Buffalo Police officer of Willie Henley, a man reported to have mental health struggles, Common Council members examined a contract between the City of Buffalo and Endeavor, which provides behavioral health services in coopreation with the police department.

That contract should stay in place, according to the Council's proposed resolution. But lawmakers say under that contract, services are rendered after police bring an individual into custody.

Mayor Byron Brown has called for having social workers ride along with police officers during daytime hours, Monday through Friday, while having them on call for other hours. Common Councilmembers say that's not enough. The mayor's plan has also drawn criticism from some in the social work community who say they're not comfortable riding along with police.

Even Common Council members are getting various opinions.

"A month ago, many people were clamoring for health care professionals, social workers to address these issues that the police are currently responding to. Now, I have had emails, and I have spoken to people that have said to me, I will not go on a call with the police department, because they go in there with a more aggressive stance, and it's not appropriate," said Council member Joseph Golombek. "I've had social workers as well tell me, I will not go on any of these calls without having police with me."

The Legislation Committee tabled the resolution for further discussion.

Council member Ulysses Wingo noted that while the city and police work out a plan to include behavioral health services, Crisis Services is also available.

"There is already a system in place for folks to call to get mental health response, there is a phone number for you to call," he said. "They made a presentation to ensure that we are aware that there is already currently a system in place for folks to call in when you see someone who may be having a mental health crisis."

That number for Crisis Services is 834-3131.