Buffalo PD spokesman set to retire, encouraged police transparency

Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The face of the Buffalo Police Department is turning in his badge. After six years as police spokesman Captain jeff Rinaldo is retiring this week. After 23 years on the force, Rinaldo has some strong feelings about policing and shared his thoughts.

Captain Rinaldo made it clear, his retirement has nothing to do with the politics at City Hall. It was a family medical decision made long before the June primaries. But leaving a job he truly loves is going to be tough.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the men and women of the Buffalo Police Department,” said BPD Captain Jeff Rinaldo.

For the last six years, Captain Jeff Rinaldo has been the face of the Buffalo Police Department, interpreting their work for the news media and sharing their stories to the public they are sworn to protect and serve.

“Trying to explain things to the public, to make them understand that we are human beings. We are fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and we have children to raise, and we want the safest community, just like they do,” Rinaldo said.

At times, Rinaldo’s job has just been a matter of breaking down some of the complexities of police work, such as how tactics on paper are carried out in the field as in this active shooter drill.

And in the darkest days the city has ever seen, the loss of a brother in blue in the line of duty, Officer Craig Lehner during an underwater training drill in 2017. Rinaldo expressed the feelings of a department, of a city in mourning.

But just doing the job day-to-day has become a much harder task, says the 26-year veteran of police work. Rinaldo started with the former Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority’s police force in 1996 and three years later, he took the oath as an officer of the Buffalo Police Department.

Clashes between police and private citizens, here and across the country in some cases with tragic outcomes have bred mistrust of law enforcement.

“I think there has been so much negative attention on law enforcement, it is that ‘bad apple in the barrel,’ thing — you think the entire barrel is bad and it is just not the case,” added Rinaldo.

A constant drumbeat of deadly police confrontations.. most notably the murder of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, that was caught on video led to protests in big cities and small towns, including Buffalo last year. The shoving injury to peace activist Martin Gugino put Buffalo police on television screens around the world. Two officers were suspended without pay and charged with assault, but a grand jury would later dismiss those charges.

“It has been very frustrating.”

Lawmakers on all levels of government — federal, state, and local have responded with acts of justice reform, aimed at the courts and police. Rinaldo believes some reform is needed.

“It is ludicrous that somebody who commits a petty theft could potentially spend six months sitting in jail just waiting to have a trial or a hearing,” Rinaldo said.

But in some respects, Rinaldo believes lawmakers’ reforms have gone overboard, making police work harder and jeopardizing public safety, especially when it comes to guns on the street.

“If I arrest you with an illegal gun, the fact that tomorrow morning a judge cannot say, well you have carried guns five times in the last year, I am keeping you in jail now because you are clearly up to no good, that is just ridiculous,” he said.

Rinaldo also notes many of the police reforms were approved on the state and local levels were already in place in Buffalo.

“We already issued body cameras for officers, we already re-wrote our ‘use of force’ policies. We were ahead of the curve on a lot of this stuff,” he says.

“It is when those reforms or those laws go too far and they start to handcuff the police that it makes it difficult for police, but it makes it dangerous for the citizens as well.”

As the spokesman for the police department the one person whose job it is to step out and help the news media understand why “Buffalo’s Finest” does what it is doing. Have we in the media added to law enforcement’s burden?

“I have been given an opportunity by most media to explain, again, why we do what we do, how we do it, and why we have to do it a certain way. I think if the media respects those opinions and that is part of the story, then I think the public can make up their own minds about how the police are performing in their community,” Rinaldo adds.

Rinaldo points out, Buffalo Police are, with their bodycams, becoming their own journalists.

“What we will come to see is a lot more of that transparency that we talked about, a lot more of that, ‘why do they do that’ what are the police facing, who are they interacting with, how difficult are these situations, I think the police are going to be very good at telling their own story,” he said.

In these days of calls for defunding police, in some cities abolishing police departments, Rinaldo believes the animosity against the police and the explosive growth of violent crime is no coincidence. And, as he gets ready to ride off into the sunset this week to spend more time with his family, Captain Jeff Rinaldo strongly believes community relations and public safety are no coincidence, either.

“Policing is a necessary component to society, and again, the better community relations we have, the better trust the community has in the police, the better job police can do,” Rinaldo added.

While other law enforcement agencies are having trouble finding new recruits, Rinaldo told us, Buffalo PD is still getting more applicants than they have job openings.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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