BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of police reform measures into law, Friday, which state lawmakers approved earlier this week, and the governor is taking it a step further.
Cuomo is threatening to withhold funding from police departments that fail to reform their practices, “We’re not going to fund police agencies in this state that do not look at what has been happening, come to terms with and reform themselves.”
Local police agencies face an April 1 deadline for adopting their new policies, according to Cuomo, “If it’s not done by April 1, and if it’s not passed, they’re not going to be eligible for state funding, period.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has already announced he has set a reform agenda in motion to end racial injustice and police brutality in the city.
One of the ways he is trying to do that is by de-criminalizing low level crimes such as misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, which Erie County District Attorney John Flynn says could bring down stress levels.
“By doing this you de-escalate the situation and you prevent confrontation.”
Instead of arresting someone accused of a low level offense, such as shoplifting or petty larceny, the suspect would be issued an appearance ticket and be on their way.
But Flynn points out by law, the suspect does have to be photographed and fingerprinted which can only be done at Police Central Booking.
“Someone from the Buffalo Police Department is going to have to be in the courtroom now and literally, either before the arraignment or after the arraignment, take that person to Central Booking and fingerprint them and process them.”
An important reason for booking a non-violent suspect after their arrest is to ensure they are not wanted for more serious offenses, but criminal attorney Barry Covert says, there are many times when there is no one at Central Booking to process a suspect, so it has to be done later anyway.
“The officer could, for example, take a photograph for identification with their cell phone. Now they have an assurance that they have the right individual, and issue the appearance ticket at the scene.”
Covert says by de-criminalizing low level offenses you could be de-criminalizing the offender.
“I think that for non-violent offenders these are all very good ideas that really could change the playing field for non-violent offenders to allow them to rehabilitate and to move on and be productive members of society.”
Mayor Brown’s reform plan would also end the practice of conducting searches at traffic stops based simply on the smell of marijuana. Brown also plans to replace the former Emergency Response Team with a new Public Protection Detail.