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Buffalo mayor calls police union a "barrier to reform" after viral video sparks condemnation

Buffalo mayor unveils police reform policy
Buffalo mayor unveils police reform policy 09:56

Nearly a week after the Buffalo Police Department drew nationwide condemnation for a video showing officers shoving a 75-year-old man, who then fell to the ground and hit his head, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced a new police reform policy — some of which will be enacted immediately through executive order. But in an interview with Elaine Quijano, anchor of CBSN's "Red & Blue," Brown called the police union a "barrier to reform."

After two of the officers involved in the incident were suspended without pay, Buffalo's entire 57-member Emergency Response Team resigned from the team, although they remained on the force. The two officers were later charged with felony assault, and pleaded not guilty.

Brown said, however, that the officers resigned in response to a threat from the police union — not because they wanted to.

"All of those officers actually came to work the next day, put on their uniforms the next day," he said. "And as they were about to go out and work on behalf of the public, they got a bulletin from the union, telling them if they performed the duties as members of the emergency response team, the union would withdraw support from them. And once the officers got that bulletin, they resigned from the unit, but not the police department."

The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association did not immediately respond to CBS News' request for comment.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown testifies during a hearing on local government funding on January 30, 2017, in Albany, New York.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown AP Photo/Hans Pennink

"We have to reform the way police unions work," Brown added. "This police union has been a barrier to reform. But we don't want to look back. We want to look forward. We are calling on the union to work with the members of the community that have worked diligently over the past week to help to develop this reform agenda."

Brown said his reforms include transparency around the department's use of force policies, a community commission that will review the department's policies, and an end to arrests for nonviolent offenses.

Rather than face arrest, nonviolent offenders will be given an "appearance ticket." That's designed to limit "police stopping and arresting people on the street, searching people on the street," Brown said.

He has also announced the creation of a public protection unit designed to "facilitate peaceful protest in our community."

"This new unit will work directly with protesters to make sure that peaceful protest can happen in our community and happen safely," he said. "We will still have a tactical unit for any mass gatherings that could become problematic and dangerous to the public. But this unit will work on an ongoing basis and receive training to work with peaceful protests, and to help facilitate peaceful protests."

Brown described the reforms as a "first step," and as a "chapter in a novel that we are writing, that will be released over days, weeks, months."

When asked if Buffalo would consider following in the footsteps of Minneapolis, where Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has withdrawn from negotiations with the police union, Brown said that the city is calling on everyone to "work together for needed reform."

"We have made many reforms over the years, but there is still more work that needs to be done," he said. "We need, we want, we are asking the union to be part of that work. Change is underway. The people's call for change is not going to go away. So the union needs to be on board with the work of reforming our police department, because the voices of the people are speaking and those voices are going to continue to be loud for reform."

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