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Buffalo Common Council members press police on response during blizzard

Questions on Buffalo Police Department vehicles, communications, and staffing were asked.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The top brass from the Buffalo Police Department went before members of City Council's Police Advisory Board to provide a closer look as to what worked and what went wrong during the historic holiday blizzard. 

On Tuesday it was the fire department that brought its grievances to council members, who have proposed a list of recommendations, such as a city emergency management director and review, and perhaps upgrade of the city's fleet of firefighting vehicles.   

Buffalo Police commanders on Wednesday were before council members who did express their appreciation for the efforts of officers to save lives during the storm. It's estimated 65 people were rescued by the BPD.    

Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia was asked about staffing by Councilman Rasheed N.C. Wyatt, "Knowing what you know now, would it have been helpful to have additional staff there to assist with everything?"

Gramaglia responded: "I don't know that that really would have come into play. We were staffed at our minimal manpower. It gets into some ... there are some issues when we order in additional staff. Having additional staff and not being able to get out in the brunt of the storm, this became a matter of life and death, of actually our officers being able to get out and do their function and that became impossible for not just the police but everybody as a whole."

Then while police radios were said to be functioning during the storm, Councilman Chris Scanlon brought up what he heard from some officers who he says felt cut off and even "abandoned" without orders or a mission during the storm.

"The calls I was receiving from people working those evenings were that they had tried to extend these concerns up the chain of command, and they weren't getting responses," Scanlon said. "So again, maybe it's just miscommunication, whatever it is, just maybe go back over that setup and that system so that everyone is informed about how that should work."

Gramaglia responded: "I certainly would, but I would honestly like to hear specific examples of where somebody could not get hold of their lieutenant or their chief, the deputy commissioners, or myself. I would like specific examples because that, as I said earlier, I can't get better, we can't get better if we don't know what those exact specific examples were, nd who couldn't get a hold of somebody."

And on the subject of how police vehicles functioned with reports of many getting stuck and officers even going on foot to rescue and sometimes carry stranded motorists to shelter, Council learned that about 85 of the department's 107 regular duty police vehicles are all-wheel drive.

Gramaglia offered up his opinion about adding some tracked vehicles, such as those used by the Erie County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police.

"A lot of agencies are looking at these UTVs, these kind of ultimate terrain vehicles," Gramaglia said. "What I don't want to do is have a knee-jerk reaction and order something that would be so type specific that will never get used and sit in the Seneca police garage.

"Looking at these UTVs, I want something that the city will get the best bang for their buck, and those are the type of vehicles that can be used for festivals, parades, rails to trails. If any request we are to make of equipment, we want to make sure it's more than just one type of a specific thing that's going to be parked in the garage for a potential 11 and a half months of the year."

Also, some council members have asked if those district police stations should be stocked with cots and those military MREs, or meals ready to eat, for both officers stuck there and anybody they might bring in for shelter. Gramaglia said police stations normally have a much different function but it may be reviewed. 

The BPD did its own internal assessment with commanders earlier this month. There may be more to come on this issue of storm response between council and the Brown administration.    



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