'It's not just a police officer problem': Town of Tonawanda talks reform

Oct 7, 2020

Like every local government in New York State with a police department, the Town of Tonawanda has to have a police reform committee. The town is dealing with the public on this issue with neighborhood meetings.

A relatively small crowd was socially distanced across the gym of the Boys and Girls Club. Much of the hour-long meeting revolved around community issues and what police can do about the issues perceived by residents.

Much of it wasn't unique, including suggestions for residents to tell police more about what's going on in order for the cops to be able to deal with issues and not just vent on social media.

Public Information Officer Lt. Joe Milosich said the neighborhood meetings are important.

"We want to be out in our communities, right, and we recognize that different parts of the town might have different needs, right, different members of our community might have different needs," said Milosich, "and that's what this is about, is learning their needs and their needs from the Police Department."

Police said the goal is greater rapport between cops and residents to benefit both.

A socially distant gathering listened to police plans for reform.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Colleen Mayfield was vocal at the meeting in the Old Town section of Tonawanda. Mayfield said there are problems with boarding houses.

"It's not just a police officer problem. I think that politicians and, like I said, the Town Board could definitely be helping with rezoning or something. But the police presence will definitely make a difference," Mayfield said. "It'll keep the bad guys hiding in their house. I'd rather them be doing it in there than out on the corner of the street."

Kenny Martin was there as a member of the task force. Martin said he sees a major problem in citizen and police dealings.

"My issues is lack of respect for minorities. They don't seem to have policemen come on watch on the street, they come for calls. They don't seem the have the same respect for us, minorities, as they do with somebody else. They come to us with a chip on their shoulders. Instead of relaxin', they need to come to us and ask us what's going on."

Martin said there needs to be more minority police officers in a town with more minority residents. Under town Civil Service residency rules, minority officers would come from the town population.

The town's police department has been studying its internal workings, while asking the public to comment to the task force. Each community is required to set up to run the actual reform process and deliver a report to the Town Board.

In turn, under the rules created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the board has to vote on the report. If approved, it has to be in Albany by April 1. If a community doesn't follow the plan, Albany will cut off the cash flow.

The next task force meeting will be held Tuesday in Lincoln Park.