One of the top officials with the Buffalo Fire Department is under investigation for allegedly abusing his power.
Deputy Fire Commissioner Joe Tomizzi is accused of running a criminal background check on one of his co-workers, a firefighter with 17 years of experience.
Now the union says firefighters throughout the department are worried that they too are being improperly checked on.
The criminal background check system is available to arson investigators on the Buffalo Fire Department. But they can only use it in criminal investigations.
Firefighter Bill Buyers says one of his co-workers, Deputy Commissioner Joe Tomizzi, used it to check up on him in December 2009, just before Buyers joined Tomizzi in the arson unit.
The situation has the local firefighter’s union, fired up. They are demanding to know who else Tomizzi has run background checks on.
“We don’t know how many members are affected by this. And we don’t know where to turn. It’s an invasion of our privacy and we think it’s a violation of our civil rights,” said Union Vice President Tom Barrett.
The union fired off letters to four outside agencies, including the district attorney and attorney general, asking them to investigate because they don’t believe city officials will investigate the complaint fairly.
“I don’t believe they are capable of doing anything that’s politically damaging to the mayor. Because it’s one of his appointments, I think they will try to squash it,” Barrett said.
Tomizzi rose up the ranks quickly in the Buffalo Fire Department, being appointed by Mayor Byron Brown as deputy commissioner in 2011.
Buyers confirmed through Erie County Central Police Services that Tomizzi did in fact run a background check on him.
Commissioner John Glascott says they would have on record everyone who a user of the system checks. And he confirmed they turned over to the Buffalo Fire Commissioner the information they asked for.
“The only reason you’re supposed to be in this database is for a legitimate criminal investigation,” Glascott said.
Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield left a statement saying they are currently reviewing it.