A year ago, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown proposed spending less on police.
But this year, Brown is proposing to increase funding for the police by more than $5 million.
Two years after the call to ‘defund the police’ became a rallying cry at protests across the country during the George Floyd protests beginning in May 2020, Buffalo has not cut funding to police to redirect savings to social programs and community services like other cities including Baltimore, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
Now Buffalo, like many other cities across the country, is grappling with a wave of gun violence that has skyrocketed during the pandemic.
They go after “trigger shooters and gun dealers,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
The additional spending would allow police to respond more quickly to shootings, investigate cases more thoroughly, resolve them more quickly and deter violence in our neighborhoods, Brown said.
The proposed increase comes a year after the police budget was slashed by $743,139 – mostly due to cuts in supplies and lower salaries for new officers joining the force to replace retiring officers better paid.
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“Overall, we are pleased with this budget as far as public safety is concerned,” said John Evans, president of the police union, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association. “We are very encouraged to see the additional detectives. We would like to see more vehicles but will certainly accommodate the 20 budgeted.
But some community leaders and organizations, while arguing the city is allocating more money to fight crime, say proper oversight is needed.
“When you allocate resources to these departments, you really want to see what the end result is,” said Niagara Common Council Majority Leader David Rivera, a retired Buffalo police officer. “You want to look at the stats. Have we made more arrests? Did we seize more weapons? Have we solved more homicides?
“It’s good that the city says it’s allocating these funds,” added Dominique Calhoun, co-chair of the Police Advisory Council, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with the city government. “What are the checks and balances to ensure that the use of these funds is used correctly?”
The Police Advisory Council was formed by members of the Council’s Police Advisory Council, which the Council dissolved due to internal disputes, including the resignation of five council members last February and the council’s reluctance to stand conform to the confirmation by the Board of new members. The Council’s new advisory board has been revamped and renamed the Community Policing Advisory Committee.
Members of the Buffalo Common Council have disbanded the Police Advisory Council over internal disputes, including the resignation of five council members last month, and the council’s reluctance to comply with the council’s confirmation of new members .
The mayor’s proposal calls for 20 new police vehicles costing $1 million, adding more detectives, expanding the department’s behavioral health team and acquiring technology like ShotSpotters.
Brown’s proposed spending plan must first be approved by the Common Council before taking effect July 1.
Among the main components:
The technology to detect where shots are fired in the city costs $364,000.
Pastor Timothy Newkirk of GYC Ministries, who founded the Community Action Coalition of Western New York, said the technology would allow police, detectives and special units to “nest in hot spots.”
“A lot of times they have operations for people who are dealing drugs, but they don’t have a lot of programs and operations in place to stop the shootings,” he said.
With 15 listening sensors per square mile, ShotSpotters registers the sound of gunshots and determines where it’s coming from – all within a minute before alerting the police. The sensors would be placed in locations where data shows a high number of gunshots, said Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, who requested enough funding to cover 3 square miles.
In mid-April, this year’s rate of gun violence slowed, with shootings down 34% from the same period last year to April 13. However, the number of people shot dead in Buffalo remains above average, according to police data. .
The technology is used in Oakland, California. Pittsburgh; Greenville, North Carolina; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Miami among other cities.
“We don’t know what we’re missing, and we’re going to find out what we’re missing with this technology,” Gramaglia said.
The program will be up and running by the summer and the public will know where the sensors are, Gramaglia said.
“Part of what drives those numbers down is that if someone knows there’s a lot of potential to bring in the police faster, they might think twice before shooting,” he said. -he adds.
“Just in the recent past we’ve had a number of shootings, two in my district two days apart,” Rivera said.
The city would add 14 detectives to bring the total to 102.
Seven would come from currently budgeted detectives and another seven would be new spending, Gramaglia said.
The detective pay line in the proposed budget would increase to about $9.3 million, about $1.1 million more than in the current budget.
Newkirk said victims’ families may remain in the “crevices” as cases pile up.
“I definitely support every time we add more detectives to the city,” he said. “It raises awareness of unsolved homicides and unsolved crimes. One of the things I run into…isn’t enough detectives on the case.
Rivera said he thinks the city needs to increase the number of detectives to root out unsolved homicides. The clearance rate, he said, is too low.
“We had almost 66 homicides,” he said. “We only solved 13 this year. And last year we had almost 65 and we solved 35 homicides, so we really need to add more resources to homicide investigations and maybe to other investigations as well.”
Created at the end of 2020, the department’s behavioral health team combines specially trained officers with mental health professionals. It has six officers and two lieutenants who work with three clinicians and a program supervisor from Endeavor Health Services, a local nonprofit that provides mental and behavioral health services.
The team operates regularly weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but was brought in some weekends for a four-hour Saturday or Sunday shift, Buffalo Police Captain Amber Beyer said. , who leads the team.
He answered more than 1,000 calls without incident, said Brown, who included funding in his budget proposal to expand hours, members and team resources.
“We’re going to expand the hours to at least around 10 or 11 at night, seven days a week, so we have the funding to be able to do that,” Beyer said. “We’re also adding a case manager position, money for training…and equipment, another transport vehicle.”
Expanding the team was one of the “big asks” from residents, advocates and members of the mental health community and council members, Rivera said.
Calhoun of the Police Advisory Council is encouraged by the mayor’s intention to expand the team, but members of the organization want more details.
“We would like to know how long the opening hours of BHT are extended? What will happen during the hours when the BHT is not working? Why can’t officers not on this BHT be trained and deployed during times when the BHT is unavailable? ” she says.
Earlier this year, the organization advocated for the team to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.