NIAGARA FALLS – With a deadline looming over the Niagara Falls Police Department to implement new, state-mandated procedures, the city council voted Monday to extend an agreement with the Attorney General's office and effectively guarantee an extra cost to the city's taxpayers.
Under an agreement signed on Nov. 30, 2010, the Attorney General's office gave the police department three full years to fully implement new policies and protocols for "use of force" situations. Since that three-year frame would end this Saturday, the council's extension will give the police department two years to comply with state standards, which will require continued payments to police consultants in the 2014 budget.
"We've got to get this work done. It's not done yet," Mayor Paul Dyster said. "It's expensive, but it's necessary."
The city signed the agreement on the heels of 27 complaints from citizens from 2007 to 2010. Since then, Dyster and Chief Bryan DalPorto said the officers have completed most of the training phase for use of force situations, but they still must complete a second phase of implementation. The agreement forces the city of Niagara Falls to "retain, at its own expense, a qualified individual or organization from outside the NFPD to serve as an Independent Auditor." Dyster said the city has spent $260,000 for these consulting costs so far, and in his proposed 2014 budget, the city would spend $130,000 in anticipation of an extension of the agreement.
"When we started down this road with the Attorney General's office, we recognized that there were voids in terms of both reports of use of force incidents, and also to follow up on complaints," Dyster said. "Both the city and Attorney General agree that an extension is needed for work to be completed."
In a statement, the Attorney General's office confirmed that it supports extra time for the police department to comply with standards.
"The Police Department has a great deal of work left to do to meet its commitments to reform, and an extension is necessary to meet those obligations," a spokesperson for the Attorney General said in a statement.
The vote passed 3-1 on Monday night (Robert Anderson, the fifth council member, was not present at the meeting). Only chairman Glenn Choolokian voted "no."
"I think it takes time to put these things into place and have it be a meaningful change," said Kristen Grandinetti, who voted in favor of the extension. "I think it's a matter of doing it the right way."
DalPorto said the department "basically revamped our entire procedure manual," which may explain the delay in implementation. Dyster also said financial trouble last year caused roadblocks for the process. In the 2013 budget, the city paid consultants $75,000, close to half of the money proposed for 2014.
"We're gonna get there. I know we're gonna get there," DalPorto said. "And we're working hard to achieve compliance."