BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — To civil rights lawyer Jonathan Manes, it’s easy to understand public outrage over the force Buffalo Police officers used Thursday night, when they pushed peace activist Martin Gugino to the ground in front of Buffalo City Hall.
“These are things that shouldn’t be happening,” said Manes, who works at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University. “It’s a shame they are...It’s maybe tragically predictable, and I hate the fact that Buffalo’s on the national map for this reason.”
But if the department wants to send a message by firing the two now-suspended officers, Manes said that will be much harder.
“My understanding is that it’s very, very difficult,” Manes said. “A senior member of the police brass cannot just fire someone because they engaged in egregious misconduct, and that’s troubling.”
That’s because according to an attorney for the Buffalo Police union, the police contract as well as New York State civil service law prevents mayors and police chiefs from quickly firing officers.
Compare that with Minneapolis, where officer Derek Chauvin was not only fired but charged with murder within days of George Floyd’s death.
Three years ago, The Washington Post found that of 1,800 police officers fired in 37 large cities since 2006, more than 450 of them appealed and won their jobs back.
“What may spur somebody on for the politics of the moment may not turn out to be actually what’s going on,” said Thomas Burton, attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.
Burton also represents one of the accused officers from Thursday night’s incident in front of City Hall.
The Buffalo Police manual spells out a complex process on disciplining employees. The accused officer has the right to a trial by the department and an arbitrator ultimately decides whether the firing is justified.
“The concern is the same with any civil servant -- a teacher, a cop, a fireman. You don’t want something that is politicized to affect that very drastic determination as to whether somebody gets fired,” Burton said.
Buffalo Common Council Member Christopher Scanlon said Buffalo Police need training on how to deal with intense situations of civil unrest.
“This could probably be the first reform that everyone could probably agree on, that we need adequately and properly trained officers,” Scanlon said.
Many police officers live in Scanlon’s district in South Buffalo, and he said officers come up to him and say they want to be properly trained.
“When you have these highly volatile, highly energized situations, if you have officers who aren’t trained and retrained and trained again to the point where their training is second nature to them, you can have unfortunate situations take place,” Scanlon said.