(TNS) — Buffalo, N.Y., police officers will resume displaying their names on uniforms, except when policing protest activity, department officials said Monday.
Badge numbers must be displayed at all times, and police brass will determine what constitutes civil unrest that would allow officers to remove their names. The penalty for not being in compliance could include reprimand or suspension, said Police Commissioner Byron C. Lockwood.
The decision aligns with the practices of many other police departments, "as we attempt to balance transparency with safety," said Capt. Jeff Rinaldo, who made the announcement at the Common Council's Police Oversight Committee meeting Monday.
Velcro will be used to display the name tags on outer garments so that they can be removed during civil unrest and only badges will be displayed, Lockwood said. Implementing the change may start slowly, he said, because "right now with the temperatures and the wind chill out there, they would need that outer garment." Last September, Lockwood directed that police officers would no longer be required under department policy to display their names on uniforms.
The move did not sit well with many community members, activists and organizations. But the change was for the safety of police officers, department officials said. Following Black Lives Matter protests that broke out in late May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, some officers had death threats and their personal information circulated publicly. Subsequently, some Buffalo police officers assigned to protest duty covered up their name tags with tape.
Also during Monday's meeting, Rinaldo said training for the the department's BolaWrap pilot project is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks. Usage of the restraining device and demographic information will be tracked and police will "gladly" share the information once the pilot project has begun, Rinaldo said.
The lasso-type device is a nonlethal means of capturing suspects, police say. Members of the department's Behavioral Health Team will test the device in a six-month pilot program free to the department to determine how effective the technology is in keeping residents and officers safe, how easy it is to carry and whether it can be effectively deployed.
Rinaldo's comments were in response to the city's Police Advisory Board recommendation that the board and oversight committee be provided the data and that the board have input on BolaWrap before the committee endorses employing any more of the devices.
The board also wants the city to adopt a diversion model in which 911 calls involving mental health issues are dispatched to a team of mental health and health care experts from a community-based organization or a city department outside of the Buffalo Police Department.
Rinaldo said Monday that 911 call takers are employees of Erie County, and the Buffalo Police Department does not have oversight over them. But sometime in the near future, the county will undertake a call diversion pilot program for 30 to 60 days in which county dispatchers will be trained to hand off calls that qualify to Crisis Services, which will have counselors on hand to route calls appropriately. If there is a need for a police response, the Crisis Services workers will have direct access to Buffalo police dispatch to send officers.
(c)2021 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.