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Maybe the feds can fix Buffalo police

Geoff Kelly and InvestigativePost continue to cover the problem of discriminatory policing in Buffalo. Read the full article.

The U.S. Justice Department has investigated more than 80 problem-plagued police departments and correctional facilities over the past 25 years and mandated remedial action to correct issues it encountered in more than half of them.

Pittsburgh was the Justice Department’s first target. In 1997, the DOJ and the city signed a “consent decree” — a binding agreement — under which the city adopted numerous police reforms, including an “early warning system” to track officers who exhibited a tendency toward excessive use of force or racial discrimination.

A 2012 consent decree between Seattle and the DOJ — prompted by a pattern of police violence against Native Americans and other minorities — led to an overhaul of departmental policies and training, with an emphasis on teaching officers how to de-escalate conflicts.

DOJ’s scrutiny of Ferguson, Missouri, police after the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown led to the creation of a civilian review board empowered to investigate accusations of police misconduct and provide input on hiring and promotions.

Buffalo’s police department shares some of the problems the Justice Department found in those and other cities. Heavy-handed use of force. Allegations of racism in the ranks and command staffDiscriminatory enforcement practicesInsufficient training.

There have been deaths, too. Four men of color — Wardel “Meech” DavisRafael “Pito” RiveraMarcus Neal, and Jose Hernandez-Rossy — have died following encounters with Buffalo police in the past five years. 

Is it time for the Justice Department to investigate Buffalo police?

A wide-ranging, four-year-old civil rights lawsuit — Black Love Resist in the Rust et al. vs. City of Buffalo et al. — accuses Buffalo police of an ongoing pattern of racial discrimination and unconstitutional stops and searches, among other violations of federal law.

Anjana Malhotra is an attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, one of three organizations representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Western New York Law Center.

“A very clear picture and pattern of liability is emerging,” Malhotra told Investigative Post. 

“From the documents we’ve reviewed, the depositions we’ve taken, the city is well aware of ongoing, discriminatory patterns and practices by its police officers, and by its highest leadership.”