Panel to assess police issues
Last outside review was done in ’90s
By Brian Meyer NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Published:November 27, 2010, 12:00 AM Updated: 06:26 AM
Two former police commissioners, a former Erie County Sheriff and an East Side activist who has been critical of Buffalo police will be included in a new commission that will spend a year charting the future of Buffalo’s Police Department.
The president of the city’s police union also is expected to be active on a panel that could review issues ranging from staffing levels and a possible return to precincts, to new strategies for community policing.
The Joint Police Reorganization Commission will conduct the first outside review of departmental operations since a similar panel recommended changes nearly two decades ago.
Among the most recognizable names on the new panel are H. McCarthy Gipson, whose four-year stint as police commissioner ended in 2009 when Mayor Byron W. Brown decided to replace him.
Richard T. Donovan, who was the last police commissioner appointed by former Mayor James D. Griffin, also will serve on a panel that could swell to 25 members.
Former Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins also will serve on the commission.
Gipson, Donovan and Higgins will lend “enormous credibility” to the panel’s final recommendations, said South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, a lead sponsor of the resolution that created the Joint Police Reorganization Commission. Other members will include neighborhood leaders, housing advocates and officials from academia. The Council is expected to finalize all appointments in the coming days.
The resolution also calls for the mayor to appoint four people to the panel. However, the Brown administration has yet to announce any appointments or even indicate whether it plans to participate.
“It’s important that we look at our Police Department with fresh sets of eyes,” Kearns said. “We can’t be afraid to have an independent look at the department. We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand.”
Each of the city’s nine lawmakers has two appointments to the panel. Kearns appointed Higgins and Donovan. Council President David A. Franczyk appointed community activist Darnell Jackson and Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Commissioner Joseph Mascia.
“A full airing on public safety is a good idea,” Franczyk said. “I think the Police Department is our most important department, and it’s good to step back and ask ‘how are we doing?’ ”
A retired Buffalo police detective who sits on the Council appointed Gipson to the commission. Gipson’s “rise through the police ranks” gives him a unique perspective, Niagara representative David A. Rivera said. “He’s a professional who did a good job while he was there,” Rivera said of Gipson. “He lends a lot of credibility and expertise to the process.”
Police manpower levels will be an issue, all three city lawmakers agreed. When the last reorganization was proposed in the early 1990s, Buffalo’s police force hovered around 1,000 officers. The city now has fewer than 770 officers, including some who have been off work because of injuries, according to data released this summer by city budget officials.
Rivera said he’s hoping the commission’s work will include a comparison of police manpower levels in Buffalo and similar cities.
Kearns said he also would like the panel to at least consider the pros and cons of the previous departmental structure that included neighborhood precincts. In the mid-1990s, Buffalo consolidated police operations, replacing 14 neighborhood precincts with five district stations, with officials insisting that the change would place more officers on the streets while reducing overhead.
Several months ago, Commissioner Daniel Derenda told the Common Council he believes the precinct set-up is more effective. “I was never in agreement with the district strategy,” Derenda told lawmakers.
But the mayor was quick to say that a return to neighborhood precincts is impractical for budgetary reasons. “Fiscally, right now, it’s not going to happen,” Brown said.
Derenda has been invited to serve as an ex-officio member of the new reorganization panel. No elected officials will serve on the commission. Other Council appointees to the panel include: H. Wayne Gerhart, Richard Raines, James J. Sobol, Lesley Haynes, Anthony Lebrun, Cliff Braxton, Terry O’Neill, Linwood Roberts and Ricky M. Allen Sr.