BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - WBEN recently conducted a lengthy interview with the two main candidates for Buffalo mayor about the public safety platform and the ongoing gun violence in the city.
We also wanted to hear how the candidates are defending themselves against narratives painted against them.
India Walton is the democratic candidate for mayor after she defeated four-term incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in June. A self-described democratic socialist, Walton has been painted by her opponents as an anti-police candidate who wants to defund the police.
Walton said she is not looking to abolish police.
"In social justice spaces, we know that the word 'defund' means we eliminate police altogether," Walton said. "What it means is that all budgets have room for improvement...When my household budget needs adjusting, maybe today I had Starbucks, but I have to consider not spending $7 on a coffee. I don't say I'm going to defund my house."
She said she doesn't want to inflate the police budget with overtime expenses and "militarized weapons". Instead, she wants more money to go towards mental health services and community safety net programs, which she says will reduce crime and allow police officers to allocate more of their resources to investigate crimes, rather than focus on tasks like homeless outreach and issuing tickets for small issues.
"I don't anticipate an increase in the police budget but obviously, we are not in a position as a society to abolish police," she said. "I don't want folks to be afraid that a Walton Administration will mean there is no police and crime is going to run rampant."
Brown's opponents have painted him as a continuation of the status quo.
"We have been anything but the status quo," Brown said. "We have been creative. We have been proactive. We have been responsive. We've initiated consistently new policing programs and new policing stategies, new training, new equipment that we've added, new technology that we've added to make our city safer, our neighborhoods, our business districts, our visitors to the City of Buffalo, to make sure that our police officers are safe when they do the difficult jobs that they do. We have not been status quo at all."
The mayor outlined how policing has evolved in Buffalo, from its days without a community police program during Buffalo's time with a control board. Once the policing program was restored, Brown said every officer has been trained as a community policing officer. He also said the cold case squad was restored and assures that every homicide continues to be investigated, regardless of how old the case is.
"We've seen before the pandemic, from 2006 to 2019, year-after-year, crime in various categories and crime overall has gone down in the City of Buffalo," Brown said. "Unfortunately in 2020 as we've dealt with this pandemic and we've had to police in a different way and in 2021 as we continue to deal with the pandemic, we have seen an increase in crime as communities all across the nation has seen an increase in crime. Before that, crime had been falling every year, year-after-year, in the City of Buffalo."