Geoff Kelly wrote a couple of blockbuster stories for us over the past week involving allegations of racism in the Buffalo Police Department. One was based on depositions given by retired police commanders in which they acknowledged use of the N-word by officers and a failure to properly train, supervise and discipline cops working on special street units. The other story was based on a federal lawsuit in which officers accuse their captain of making racially derogatory remarks about Black officers and justifying racist attitudes among whites.
These revelations were shocking, to be sure. But given Investigative Post’s reporting on the police department since 2016, they were not surprising. We’ve documented numerous instances of misconduct of individual police officers, mismanagement of the department and indifference by the city’s elected officials to the dysfunction that permeates the department.
Below is a summary of the best of our reporting.
Daniela Porat covered the police extensively during her time with us. Three stories painted the big picture of problems within the department. They included a failure to train officers in de-escalation techniques, the failure of the department’s Internal Affairs Division to hold misbehaving cops accountable, and abuses by the Strike Force and Housing units. (The department subsequently disbanded Strike Force.)
Geoff wrote another story that is fundamental to understanding dysfunction in the department: his analysis of the city’s contract with the Police Benevolent Association. The contract handcuffs the commissioner’s ability to manage the department and makes it difficult to discipline bad cops. Moreover, Mayor Bryon Brown has never attempted to negotiate the necessary changes during his long tenure in office. (The city failed to obtain concessions during recent negotiations. Cops got a raise, however.)
How about these cops?
- Officer Joseph Hassett has been disciplined for misconduct time and time again. His credibility is so suspect that the district attorney doesn’t want to use his testimony. His bosses wanted to fire him. But he still has his job.
- Lieutenant Michael Delong also has a long disciplinary history. He once used the C word to a woman — captured on video — who questioned how officers were dealing with a man in distress. After that he put in for a promotion, but instead retired with a nice pension.
- Officer Karl Schultz has also been investigated a lot by the Internal Affairs Division. Among his transgressions: shooting and paralyzing a teenager, who successfully sued the city for $4.5 million. Like Hassett, he’s still on the job.
- Then there’s Officer Richard Hy. His nickname says it all: “Angry Cop.”
Misconduct by police costs city taxpayers money — lots of money, as Phil Gambini reported.
Another police scheme cost residents a lot of money, in particular, Black motorists who live on the East Side. The mayor and Common Council concocted a number of fines and fees for traffic violations and figured out a way to divert that money from state to city coffers. They then sicced police on drivers, as reported by Marsha McLeod. The result: more discriminatory policing.
Several years later, Geoff reported cops are still busy writing tickets. His analysis of 911 calls found a big jump in traffic stops.
Let’s circle back to more of Daniela Porat’s reporting. A lack of training not only puts citizens at risk, it cost police diver Greg Lehner his life. The state later found the department at fault and the Lehner family sued.
Daniela’s reporting also expressed concern that a lack of proper training in de-escalation techniques could lead to a Ferguson-type situation here in Buffalo. Since then, no fewer than four men of color have died in altercations with police, perhaps most notably Rafael “Pito” Rivera, shot as he ran from officers.
Spending on police has soared during Brown’s time in office, rising three times faster than in other departments. Nevertheless, cops sometimes are stuck in their precincts for lack of working vehicles, which improved somewhat after our reporting.
What do we get in return for our huge investment in tax dollars? One of the highest violent crime rates among mid-sized cities in the nation and a middling clearance rate. The clearance rate for homicides is among the worst in the nation.
Another analysis of 911 calls by Geoff found that police are slower to respond to requests for service in Black neighborhoods than white ones.
What we also got was a department that, until we reported it, wasn’t accredited, as are most departments its size. That accreditation is now in limbo pending contract negotiations with the PBA. The union doesn’t want officers subject to performance reviews, something required by accreditors.
Former Buffalo Bills star Booker Edgerson recalled the day Buffalo cops beat him.
OK, so Internal Affairs is reluctant to find cops at fault. How about outside monitors? Forget about it. And heaven forbid if a prosecutor brings charges. When District Attorney John Flynn charged two officers with felony assault after Martin Gugino was shoved to the ground — bringing national disgrace to the city and department — police showed up in force outside the court hearing to lend their support to their fellow officers.
Then there’s the matter of departmental leadership. Commissioner Dan Derenda left the department a mess. His successor, Byron Lockwood, was kind of a figure head; Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia essentially ran the show – while moonlighting with a suburban department. He’s now officially in charge, and his resume includes running the homicide squad when it had an especially low clearance rate. Now that he’s in charge, cops on more than one occasion appear to have violated department rules and gotten away with it.
What’s been the response to all this from the city’s elected leaders?
The mayor issued a series of modest reforms in the wake of the protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd. The Common Council has done even less. Its Police Oversight Committee only meets a handful of times a year, rarely tackles serious issues, and has not proposed any significant reform legislation.
Investigative Post will continue to cover the police department. We expect there’s more shocking news to uncover. But given what we’ve already reported, no one should be surprised.