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Divide within the Buffalo Police union

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Six African-American Buffalo Police Officers have filed claims against the Police Benevolent Association for workplace harassment and discrimination.

They say it all started when they were offered provisional promotions to become lieutenants or detectives.

A provisional promotion is one where an officer has been promoted to a higher rank; they just have to take a test to complete the requirements for it.

The officers' promotions were made official during a ceremony with the city's police commissioner and mayor on Tuesday, January 17th.

Afterwards, some members of the PBA, including Detective Jennifer Whitaker, received a text saying she and other officers had violated a By-Law.

"I did receive the text message saying that we were violators. It had all of our names (on it) and it said that we were violators of a resolution," Whitaker said. "It made me feel like a traitor. A violator. It made me feel like an outcast."

However, the officers say the issues didn't end there.

"There's been a lot of harassment going on. Harassment via the PBA, sending us threatening letters. Threatening to be kicked out or suspended from the union," Detective William Johnson explained. "I would like for the harassment to stop."

Each of the officers received a letter from the PBA. Lieutenant Deidre Carswell received one in February stating that by accepting the provisional position she had refused to comply with PBA Resolution 2017-1.

In the end, the officers were brought on the charges before a tribunal hearing with the union.

"They made us an offer. The offer for all six of us was to turn our badges back in and go back to our original positions as police officers," Lt. Carswell said.

The officers refused to take the offer and were found guilty of violating the resolution. As a result, they have to pay a fine and say they won't be able to use the union attorney.

"We thought as upstanding members of the union, the union should be representing us. We never imagined that we would have to fight against our union."

PBA President Kevin Kennedy did not return our phone calls for comment, but the PBA's website has information about the by-law and their stance on its website.

It states that the Buffalo Police Department intended on promoting 10 officers to free up more police officer ranks for the upcoming police academy. It states there wasn't enough money in the budget for the positions. The website states, "the Department could have requested a budget amendment to provide for more police officer ranks in the budget." It continued to state that the officers' promotions are an unfair labor practice and in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and the By-Laws of the union.

In the new By-Law, approved in January, it states that the PBA asked the City of Buffalo to provide the provisional exams. It also states that "any member who accepts a provisional promotion seriously undermines the position of the PBA, the rights of its members, and the terms of conditions of employment."

The six officers who filed the discrimination claim, question where all of this is coming from. Last year, three officers, two white and one black, were promoted under similar circumstances, without a union fight.

News 4 spoke with Buffalo Police Commissioner Dan Derenda. He said officers have moved up the ranks via a provisional promotion for years. Citing that this is a fair labor practice, he said this is nothing new.

Commissioner Derenda also said black and white officers were considered for the recent promotions.

Lastly, the commissioner said he is currently looking into whether any harassment has taken place. If so, he said he will deal with it swiftly.

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