Invest in Community Safety and Health, Not More Weapons, Say Buffalo Residents and Community Groups

On Friday, October 23, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, together with Common Council President Darius Pridgen, announced three new initiatives under their Buffalo police reform agenda—tasers, a lasso-type restraining device called BolaWrap, and a data analytics center. 

According to the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank, “this announcement continues the worrying trend of reforms that are at odds with residents’ priorities.

 “Less lethal approaches to public safety are a welcome attempt; however, we believe time and money are best spent on proven policy solutions, such as diversion programs, civilian oversight, and community-based health programs.” 

The package announced last  Friday will instead invest $3.9 million in unproven technological solutions, adding new weapons to officers’ belts, rather than adding services to build safer, healthier communities.

A statement from the Partnership continues:

TASERS

Tasers, classified as “electroshock weapons,” have well-documented problems and can cause cardiac emergencies for some people. As recently as September, the City of Buffalo delayed its purchase of Tasers due to budget constraints, according to the Buffalo News. Surely, the $1 million allocated to Tasers can be better spent on some of the proven community-based reforms listed below.

BOLAWRAP

BolaWrap, classified as a “non-lethal weapon,” was developed in 2016 and modeled after the “bolas” or lasso-like hunting weapons used by South American “gauchos” or horsemen “to wrangle animals,” according to the Washington Post. Particularly worrying is the current proposal to pilot BolaWrap with the Buffalo Police Department’s Behavioral Health Team, which is the City’s new unit to respond to people experiencing mental health crises. 

Some cities around the United States are taking steps to remove police from mental health response, noting that police are poorly prepared to help people in crisis and provide needed care. 

The BolaWrap seems in direct conflict with a care-based approach. How will individuals in crisis respond when a lasso is discharged rapidly, encircling their body to “bring them down,” and embedding them with fish-hooks? What are the criteria for when an officer can use their discretion to discharge the device — and how will social workers on the scene then be trusted to provide care, when the incident includes this aggressive weapon? 

DATA CENTER

Residents and community organizations have called for improved public data on policing in Buffalo for years. For example, requests include publicly releasing “stop data” in a searchable database to monitor for racial bias in police stops. This step has not been taken to date, despite   Mayor Brown’s addition of “stop tickets” or “stop receipts” as an early part of the Buffalo Reform Agenda in June, a policy that should make stop data easily available. Data on stops, on-site appearance tickets, and desk appearance tickets should be made available to the public.

Friday’s announcement of a 3-year contract with SAS Institute to create a data analytics center for the Buffalo Police Department raises many questions. What data will be collected, and what kind of analysis and reports will be made available to the public? Will this data be available on the City’s website or Open Data Buffalo portal? These answers should be provided, with time for public comment and consultation with the Buffalo Police Advisory Board, before a data system is approved by Common Council.

The 3-year data contract comes at a cost of $1.3 Million for the first year, and $800,000 per year for years two and three, as reported in the Buffalo News. 

INVEST IN COMMUNITY PRIORITIES

For years, residents and community advocates have called on the Mayor, Common Council, and the Buffalo Police Department to dramatically change policing in the City of Buffalo. 

While some meaningful progress has been made in the Mayor’s Buffalo Reform Agenda this year — notably, issuing appearance tickets instead of making custodial arrests for low-level offenses; repealing 13 traffic fees added in 2018; limiting no-knock search warrants — some changes continue to show a disconnect between residents’ urgent concerns and the City’s proposed solutions. For example, in September, the City announced a policy change to no longer require Buffalo Police officers to wear name badges on their uniforms. The Buffalo Police Advisory Board said that this police change “fails to live up to the standards of transparency and accountability to the public” that it calls for, risking “further eroding community trust and safety.” Recently, the Minority Bar Association of Western New York also urged Mayor Brown and Police Commissioner Lockwood to rescind the policy. 

We call on Common Council to request and provide more information on the proposed data system, and how it fulfills the data and transparency requests made by residents, community organizations, and the Buffalo Police Advisory Board in recent years. 

To learn more about the Partnership for the Public Good Click HERE