Police seem to dominate so many conversation these days, as protests continue in Buffalo and around the world. A key issue in all of these conversations is the rules for becoming an officer and how an officer might lose that badge for bad behavior.
That bad behavior will be more visible, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo expected to sign a law ending secrecy for police personnel and personal records. This was in the air during a virtual discussion of policing Tuesday evening, sponsored by the Western New York Peace Center.
Activist Martin Gugino, who in video shot by WBFO was seen shoved and injured by Buffalo police during a City Hall protest last week, is from the center. Two officers involved in that incident have been suspended, as Gugino recovers from his injury.
The discussion ranged from how well police are trained to how much they represent the communities in which they work. Buffalo Police Capt. Steve Nichols said bad cops make things difficult for good cops.
"You know how hard it makes my job when somebody does something wrong? Do you know how hard it makes my job right now? We worked together, Vicky, for years, and Heron, we worked together for years. You know how far back I feel set right now, thanks to that idiot in Minneapolis? And I have yet to hear a single officer try to even come close to defending that guy's action. That was wrong. It was absolutely wrong. He should go to prison for the rest of his life, absolutely."
Nichols was speaking about the four officers, led by Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin who has been charged with killing George Floyd by kneeling on his throat. All four were fired and face criminal charges. Vicky Ross is the executive director of the Peace Center. Heron Simmonds is an activist and professor at Canisius College.
There was also a lot of discussion of the changing role of police, as they are expected to take on responsibilities far from law enforcement. That includes serving as what many regard as the front line of the mental health system.
"Police are overworked in many ways and a lot of the people they encounter have problems, that if, in my opinion, if we were a better organized society, right? we would provide services to address these fundamental underlying problems, for example, poverty issues," said Simmonds.
Nichols told the event the city's patrol force handles a half-million calls a year and new teams are being created to take the burden of officers, including social workers and others to handle calls of mental health issues instead of asking police officers to handle them.
Cheney Brockington said training on racism has to be an essential part of police training.
"In order to really make sure that our trainings are effective and that the individuals that we're hiring are effective, we have to really talk about that elephant in the room. We can't continue to just kind of disarm it or disband it or act as if it's not currently present. We have to be able to address what racism looks and how it shows up in the individuals who are meant to protect and serve across all races," Brockington said.
Brockington said that training is needed because officers constantly interact with citizens of other races and they need to challenge their implicit assumptions about those other races.