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The Common Council will keep closer tabs on policing issues by reviving its long-dormant Police Oversight Committee.
Council President David A. Franczyk announced Thursday that he's taking the action because he believes crime is one of the most critical issues facing the city. He insisted that establishing a panel that will likely meet at least once a month to scrutinize policing issues should not be viewed as an attempt by lawmakers to micromanage the Police Department.
"Our job as outlined in the charter is to ask questions," he said. "What's more important than public safety?"
The panel could review issues ranging from the effectiveness of a new police crackdown on quality-of-life offenses, to concerns raised by residents, Franczyk said. He cited as one example the recent expiration of a 2002 agreement involving the federal government's oversight of reforms within the Police Department.
Community activists like Samuel Radford III of the Millions More Movement insist that while some improvements have been made, the Police Department is still in need of oversight. Radford thinks having a Council panel that will seek citizens' input on policing is a positive step.
"This is not an attack on the Police Department," said Radford. "It's just another tool we'll have to address any problems."
"The more openness you have, the better it is for everybody," he said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown's communications director said the administration has no objections to the plan.
"This administration has always sought greater transparency and accountability within the Buffalo Police Department," Peter K. Cutler said Thursday, citing as one example police officials' regular appearances at CitiStat meetings.
Some Council members praised plans to revive a committee that has been idle for at least five years. Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a city police detective on leave, said he would like to serve on the oversight panel. Rivera raised the notion of bringing back the panel earlier this month, after the Police Department began to withhold basic crime information from the media, including the addresses where some crimes were occurring.
Brown later ordered police officials to restore media access to crime information that is available on a computer in Police Headquarters