BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Mayor Byron Brown announced several steps that the city is taking to create change in Buffalo.

On Wednesday, Brown stood with community leaders and Common Council Members and announced several policy reforms for the Buffalo Police.

Some of the policy changes are:

  • Increase the level of transparency in the BPD
  • Incorporate Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion principles into existing community engagement and policing activities
  • Placing BPD use of force policy prominently on BPD & city website
  • Strengthen existing training programs that enhance officers de-escalation skills
  • Issuing an executive order that will stop arrests for low-level non-violent offenses
  • Reform and restructure fines & fee schedules
  • Replace ERT crowd control with public protection unit
  • Publishing how people can access police bodycam footage
  • Convene a Commission, as called by former President Obama and the Buffalo Common Council, to examine police policies and procedures

Within the past week or so, Mayor Brown says he has met with groups for several hours to discuss the issues they would like to see addressed.

People from Citizens Actions and Free the People WNY coalition have been part of those meetings with the mayor. They say it’s important people of color are the ones who speak with local leaders, because they’re the ones who deal with racial injustices each day.

“These issues are detrimental to our youth,” says Mercedes Overstreet with the Free the People WNY Coalition. She organized some of the protests in Niagara Square last week. “It didn’t just start here, we have to end it.”

Activists in attendance say the mayor has committed to meeting with them at least 10 times a year and continue to meet their demands.

Brown said Wednesday’s meeting is a start and by no means the end of the actions that will be taken in the City of Buffalo.

“We have to make sure people of color are fighting back and white people are standing up in the front lines and letting black people lead at this moment and showing that white people’s privilege is on the front line to fight for black lives matter,” said Christian Parra of Free the People WNY.

Free the People WNY’s full response to Brown’s reform agenda can found below:

“We want to thank the community for building this agenda. As a coalition, it is our goal and our duty to represent the needs of the people. We are a group of mainly young people of color who have backgrounds in program development, social work, religious leadership, grassroots organizing, healthcare, law, education, public policy and mental health and wellness, but first and foremost our knowledge and passion comes from our lived experiences.

We are in no way satisfied with what we heard at the Mayor’s press conference on Wednesday. We acknowledge Mayor and his administration for the first steps he announced, but we want to be loud and clear: the changes outlined by the mayor amount to a ripple, when what we are demanding is for the tidal wave of liberation to overturn the old ways of oppression and usher in a completely new way of ensuring justice and safety in Buffalo.

As prison abolitionists, we value reforms that bring us closer to the ultimate goal of a world where no more people are locked in cages. We are committed to continuing conversations about policing with the mayor and other local and state representatives for as long as we believe that doing so will result in the paradigm shift that is required. We have no intention of wasting our time on tweaks to a corrupt, unjust system. Based on our list of demands, on Wednesday Mayor Brown committed to the following which will be implemented IMMEDIATELY: 

Demand 1: Riot police must stand down and lift the curfew.

We appreciate Mayor Brown moving quickly to meet this demand, however, we will be paying close attention to the actions of the yet unknown “Public Protection Detail.”

Demand 6: Increase Transparency.

a. Mayor Brown agreed to work on hiring a staff person to help review body camera footage to prevent a huge lapse in time from when footage is requested versus granted. We as a coalition are working to ensure that, unless an investigation happens — in which case the law prohibits footage being released — there will be a quicker turnaround time to release footage to individuals who have been recorded. We also are pushing for quicker turnaround to attorneys, which will require action by the District Attorney.

b. Mayor Brown agreed to increase transparency by making Buffalo Police Department’s written policies public so officers cannot abuse their power and conceal information when they have encounters with Buffalo residents. We expect that all written policies governing the operation of Buffalo PD and its officers, including employee handbooks and training manuals, will be prominently published on the BPD website — not just the Use of Force policy.

Demand 7:  End biased traffic stop practices and eliminate unfair fees.

a. Mayor Brown’s Executive Order 2020-001 dictates that the smell of marijuana by an officer must no longer be used as a pretext for a traffic stop or search. The same Executive Order mandates that officers issue a stop receipt stating the reason for the stop in writing which, if implemented correctly, will give citizens a tool for holding officers accountable for illegal stops and searches. We are encouraged by the mayor’s statements regarding decreasing the city’s overreliance on revenue from fines and fees—which incentivizes police to make arrests and issue excessive tickets. We look forward to reviewing the specific changes to these policies.

We reiterate the need for regular data tracking and reporting on all stops and arrests, including the frequency, reasons, geographic locations, and the racial demographics of those who are stopped. We are also still demanding that the 13 traffic fees be eliminated, fix-it tickets are issued for minor traffic infractions, that the city invests in traffic calming infrastructure, and waives all fees and fines over a year old for residents with low income.

Demand 8: Supporting and implementing LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion).

It is our understanding that Mayor Brown has agreed to implement the LEAD program in its entirety, and not “principles” as mentioned in the mayor’s recent press release, which is an imperative distinction.

Demand 13: Resolutions in support of repealing all of the state laws proposed by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

The mayor has publicly stated his support for this agenda, and the Common Council passed a resolution in support of repealing 50-a. We urge local leaders to add their voices to call for immediate passage of the entire slate of reforms.

We would like to thank Mayor Brown for his public support of the following demands and look forward to co-developing the details of the following policy changes:

Demand 9: Adopt Cariol’s Law to create a duty to intervene.

The coalition would like to commend the mayor for publicly stating his commitment to enact a “duty to intervene” ordinance.

Demand 10: Give the community a seat at the bargaining table.

Mayor Brown has stated that the community will have the opportunity to weigh in publicly on our priorities regarding police union contracts before they are decided, which is a step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the mayor to ensure that the people of Buffalo have the final say over if and how our communities are policed, not the PBA.

Demand 11: Update BPD Use of Force policy and codify it into law.

Banning chokeholds is a positive step in the right direction, with many more issues regarding the use of force by Buffalo Police yet to be described in detail.

Demand 12:  Get police out of schools

The coalition would like to acknowledge Mayor Brown’s public commitment to review the SRO program and police presence in schools, as well as the participation of the Board of Education in beginning to investigate the problem of police inside our schools. We remain firmly committed to protecting our children from being criminalized, and are steadfast that police must be removed in order to do that.

The coalition and Mayor Brown’s office are still working on the following demands, which are essential to the paradigm shift we seek:

Demand 2: Fire officers with a history of brutality and killing people.

Demand 3: Make officers pay for settlements with their pensions, not taxpayer dollars.

Demand 4: Create an independent external oversight body.

Demand 5: Cut the police budget and invest in reforms and community supports We are in the beginning stages of historic change in Buffalo. We stand with the community in dismantling white supremacy and building policies rooted in our collective liberation. Do not stop protesting, do not stop the uprising. This is our movement. As womanist Phillis Hill states, “We are the fruition of our ancestor’s dreams.”

Free the People WNY

Kelly Khatib is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.