BUFFALO, N.Y. — Police-community relations remain tense after a fatal officer involved shooting in Buffalo.
"A lot of folks within Buffalo, no matter what part of the city you're from, have a lot of concerns about police transparency and what policies exist. A lot of us just don't know," said Dejon Hall, a member of Buffalo Common Council Police Oversight Committee's Citizen Advisory Board.
One possible way to increase that transparency is through body cameras.
"If used correctly, body cameras are a powerful accountability tool and excellent evidence collection tool," said UB law student Colton Kells.
A handful of officers tested the equipment over the summer. The pilot program wrapped up September first. They're planning to phase in full-time use of body cameras department-wide by the end of the year, community members say there are a lot of concerns over the policy governing the program, particularly when an officer can choose not to record.
"That could justify not recording precisely when it's most important for there to be a record," said Jonathan Maynes, Buffalo Common Council Police Oversight Committee, Citizen Advisory Board co-chair.
"It's important for BPD to take community concerns seriously to engage directly with the public and to make policy changes where proper," said Orlando Dickson, another UB law student who analyzed the department's policy. "BPD needs to have a formal process for gathering and incorporating public input into its body cam policy. BPD should then report to the council,explaining why the BPD adopted or did not adopt certain requested changes to the body camera policy."
As it stands right now, officers must record whenever they are responding to a request for service or engaging in law enforcement duties. The police commissioner says the camera should be activated before an officer gets out of the car.
They have the option to not record if a witness or victim requests or if it would put their safety at risk when responding to an incident.
They cannot record in certain situations, where laws prevent it, like at hospitals or in bathrooms.
"I think the policy is good. There's never a policy that can cover every single possible caveat that can occur especially in the world of first responders. I think the policy is strong where it dictates officers must record, but what people need to understand is that we can't just come up with a policy on our own as an administration and say this is what you must do. There are union concerns. There are contractual concerns. There's local laws, state laws, federal laws. There's a lot that plays into how the cameras can be used and the footage disseminated," said Capt. Jeff Rinaldo, the Buffalo Police Department's spokesperson.
Police say they're open to releasing video when they can, but if it is evidence or if it is used to discipline an officer, they legally can't put it out to the public.
They say there are mechanisms in place for people with complaints to be heard.
"Our internal affairs unit will sit down with that person and review that footage with them to go through what occurred and go through all the facts to try to eliminate the he said, she said of any encounter," said Rinaldo.
Some community members say they're also concerned about how the video is stored and used.
Police officials say they're looking at best practices from departments across the country to develop their policy. It will be revised over the next couple months, and should be sent to department lawyers for review by the end of the year.