Pridgen wants Buffalo police accredited

Updated Jan. 25, 2017 

Common Council President Darius Pridgen proposed a resolution Tuesday asking the Buffalo Police Department to seek accreditation as a means of bringing about improvements in the department. It was unanimously approved.

As reported last week by Investigative Post, accreditation by outside evaluators is a long-ignored requirement of the City Charter.

The resolution also calls for the police to provide updates to the Council on its application for accreditation.

“That sounds very, very important to have the state or someone who then has oversight and then can come in and look at where there are pieces where we miss,” he said Tuesday at the Council’s Police Oversight Committee meeting.

In a Facebook Live post Tuesday night, Pridgen reiterated why he thinks it’s important for the Buffalo Police Department to be accredited.

“If we had an accreditation agency, it would only help. They look at the standards that a police department should be going by,” he said. “I think that brings another level of trust.”

A main obstacle to accreditation is that officers are not subject to performance evaluations, a point reiterated at the meeting by Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.

While Pridgen pressed on the issue of accreditation, neither he nor University District Council Member Rasheed Wyatt directly addressed the department’s training deficiencies in weapons and use of force, even though they both told Investigative Post in November they would bring up those issues at this meeting. The committee’s discussion on training focused instead on one aspect of use of force training: de-escalation strategies to deal with police encounters with those suffering from mental health issues.

Investigative Post reported in October that Buffalo has failed to follow the lead of many other departments across the country, seeking to avoid Ferguson-type situations, in training officers in the use of firearms and use of force. Officers in Buffalo received only two hours last year in firearms and the use of force. For the latter, it is a written test. By comparison, officers in Rochester received 11 ½ hours of training, in Cincinnati, 20.

The department also fails to do scenario-based training in weapons and use of force, whereby officers practice making use of force decisions in scenarios that simulate daily police operations, like stops and patrols.

Mike Farrell, a smart firearms distributor for police departments across country, said that a non-interactive approach to use of force can be dangerous.

“Taking a written test on something that is an extremely physical and violent event is absolute lunacy,” he said.

In his call for accreditation, Pridgen mentioned the absence of communications between the city and the Police Benevolent Association regarding performance evaluations as reported by Investigative Post. Mayor Byron Brown and Kevin Kennedy, president of the Police Benevolent Association, accused each other of refusing to discuss the issue, which is the subject of mandatory bargaining.

While Derenda said he is open to pursuing accreditation, he said, “We believe our standards are the same or higher than what is currently used under accreditation.”

Derenda said he met with the union last week and performance evaluations were discussed, but he did not elaborate.

In the spotlight at Tuesday’s meeting was the incident last month in which a police officer struck a knife-wielding civilian having a mental health crisis with an SUV in an attempt to defuse the tense encounter. Members of the public testified on the need for more de-escalation training specifically related to mental health.

“A lot of us have been living in fear that some of the incidents we’ve been seeing in cities across the country like Ferguson might happen in Buffalo,” said The Reverend Gerard Williams, pastor at Unity Fellowship of Christ Church and member of VOICE Buffalo’s Criminal Justice Task Force.

“We struggle to understand how that was an appropriate method to subdue a mentally challenged individual.”

Pridgen pressed Derenda and Deputy Police Commissioner Kimberly Beaty to explain the training offered in this area. Derenda defended the department’s policy on the use of force and said that his office would provide the Council with a report on the findings of the internal affairs investigation into the incident.

Beaty, the deputy commissioner, spoke about the police’s initiative with Crisis Services of Erie County, which provided de-escalation training focused on handling encounters with people suffering from mental health issues. This training was only provided to officers in one of five police districts. The rest of the force would receive the same training this year, Beaty said.

Several people from social justice organizations who asked to address the committee were either prohibited or given scant time.

Sam Magavern, co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good, was given 30 seconds to discuss his organization’s recent report on police-community relations and requested that the police provide a response to the report’s over 30 recommendations.

James Lopez and Danielle Johnson, leaders of Voice Buffalo’s Justice and Opportunity Table, which focuses on criminal justice issues, were limited to a little over two minutes to discuss what they said was the need to improve civilian oversight of police.

The Police Oversight Committee meets sporadically. The next meeting is scheduled for July 18.