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Buffalo police confused over mayor's executive order to stop low-level arrests

Some asking what constitutes a "low-level non-violent offense"
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Posted at 3:41 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-11 19:18:14-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was joined Wednesday by community activists, NFL players, police officers and elected officials to roll out new sweeping police reforms in the Queen City.

The mayor says the reforms, which include replacing the Emergency Response Team with a public protection detail unit and strengthening diversity training for officers, are aimed at providing transparency, accountability and building trust within the community.

But perhaps the biggest reform is an executive order from the mayor that immediately ends arrests for low-level, non-violent offenses.

In the executive order, the mayor says this is to "eliminate the potential for physical interactions between police and citizens for minor, non-violent offenses."

But what constitutes a low-level, non-violent offense?

According to sources within the Buffalo Police Department, officers are now confused as to exactly what crimes they should, and should not, be placing people under arrest.

"We are, at the PBA anxiously waiting to see what these low-level non-violent offenses that they no longer want us to be able to arrest for. At this time, we have been given no details," the Buffalo police union said in a statement.

7 Eyewitness News asked city spokesperson Mike DeGeorge for clarification. We were told the details are still being worked out.

The executive order says non-violent crimes do not include property damage, weapons-related offenses, large drug sales or "arrests mandated by state law."

Legal analyst Florina Altshiler says what the mayor announced does not change the law at all.

"All the mayor is saying is if it is an offense that qualifies for a desk appearance ticket, go ahead and give that desk appearance ticket, instead of taking custodial arrest of the person. It sounds like now one will be arrested for low-level offenses, technically that's true but what it means is you're still arrested, you get a desk appearance ticket, you have to show up for court, you have to appear and you have to face those charges."

Altshiler said before the executive order, police could give someone a desk appearance ticket or make a physical arrest if they thought appropriate.

"He's basically saying follow the law. He's not decriminalizing low-level offenses and he's not telling the police to suddenly stop enforcing low level offenses."