BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and the police department chiefs met with lawmakers Tuesday for the first meeting of the Common Council’s Police Oversight Committee.
The meeting comes at a turbulent time for the department, which has been scandalized by several recent investigations involving officers. One centers around a cell phone video that sparked claims of police brutality, another round an assault at Molly’s Pub that left two officers suspended, and a third involving three officers facing charges over their treatment of four teens.
For more than an hour, Derenda answered questions. He said the department has raised the number of internal affairs investigations from 130 a year, to 450 to 500 a year, with more self-policing.
Committee Chair David Rivera, a former police officer himself, said he met with the officer’s union and was told a lack of officer training may have led to some of the problems reported in the news recently.
“Now, when you went through the police academy five or 20 years ago, you went through that. But this is something that should be done more regularly,” Rivera said.
Derenda told lawmakers he will be mandating ethics trainings for officers next year, and that the department is creating training that officers will need to complete each year. The training will in part teach them how to better interact with the public.
“You treat people the way you want to be treated, the way you want your family members to be treated. Sometimes you deal with the worst of the worst. However you have to be professional at all times,” Derenda said.
The police commissioner told the committee he already started mandating annual training on the use of force. That’s been a hot topic since stories surfaced in the last few months of an officer slapping cell phones out of the hands of citizens, and another officer convicted of violating the civil rights of a man while he was handcuffed.
But the committee itself will not be investigating.
“We’re not going to be investigating the Buffalo Police Department. That’s not our job. Yes, we will be taking complaints. Yes, we will pass them on to the appropriate authorities. Nothing is going to get swept under the rug,” Rivera said.
Council President Darius Pridgen said he wants officers to be more respectful to citizens, however Derenda said he believes they are professional. He said people recognize him, and tell him the good things officers do that don’t get reported.
Pridgen wants a survey done in neighborhoods to learn more about what residents think of police behavior. Details may come from a program Derenda is working on, he says he is working on something to increase feedback from certain neighborhoods.
Lawmakers will also be looking at the possibility of putting cameras in squad cars.
Another change Derenda noted is corporation council will start holding disciplinary hearings about once a month to speed up departmental charges in internal investigations.
He said, “We’ll have hearings quicker, and will bring resolution to these cases a lot faster than they have been.”
And a concern of lawmakers is a residency requirement for police officers. Councilman David Franczyk said he believes officers should be required to live in the city. Derenda said Mayor Byron Brown wants this detail added in their next contract.
The former chair of the committee was Brian Davis. But he resigned from the Common Council in 2009 when he pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds. The committee has simply been dormant since then.