Police Should Conduct Checkpoints Fairly Or Not At All!

          Betty Jean Grant

          Betty Jean Grant

For those of us who live or work on Buffalo's eastside, we have almost gotten used to traveling down a street or road and then, all of a sudden, the traffic comes to a sudden halt. We look ahead and we see several police cars with officers inside or alongside them waving drivers to the side. When it is our time in line, the officers approach our vehicle, look at the stickers on the windshield and either wave us along or proceed to write tickets for any violations they come across. I have been one ofthe lucky or prudent ones. I am always motioned to move on but it is only because my car registration and inspection stickers have been current during the times I have been caught up in a checkpoint. I have never been asked for additional information such as a driver's license or insurance card and I have to admit that it might be because of my age, being a female of having a slightly recognizable face, here in Buffalo.

But, in interacting on social media, I have found that the numerous checkpoints conducted by the Buffalo Police, on many eastside streets, are a serious issue. Number one, most of those who complain about them believe that they are not being done fairly because they are done only on the eastside of Buffalo or maybe a small portion of the lower west side. Many citizens, who have been a party in these checkpoints stops, feel that because thereareprobably higher incidents of people who are driving without the proper car insurance or with a driver's license that has expired or been suspended, on the East side due to poverty or high unemployment, the area is being racially profiled. Others feel that when a person is stopped during checkpoints stops, the officer is really looking for drugs as opposed to making sure one's vehicle is properly registered. They said that when the driver is in violation for a lapsed driver's license and when the officer tells him to 'roll down the window' and a waft of Marijuana smoke hits the officer in the face, guess who may be going to jail that day or night?

In July, 2016, a reporter for a local newspaper wrote an article, in collaboration with the Daily Public Magazine and City and State, a downstate media outlet. In the article, the reporter cited a Study published in May, 2016, that provided additional context in the Buffalo police department'suse of checkpoints tactics. The Study was undertaken by SUNY Buffalo Criminal Justice professor, Scott Phillips and University of Texas professor, Andrew Palmer Wheeler. Their collaborative work, called Operation Strike Force, found that, "while officers, over a specified period of time made arrests for individuals they stopped who had outstanding warrants, confiscatedseveral firearms and vehicles; they also wrote over 6,000 traffic tickets."

The professors also stated that,"During one of Buffalo's 'Operation Strike Force' engagements,  the Buffalo Police Department, with assistance from State Police and the Erie County Sheriff, conducted more than 60 checkpoints across 45 locations. Each checkpoint remained in place for more than90 minutes and all but 8 of them occurred on Buffalo's predominately African American eastside."

Based on what these professors and the local news reporter observed in 2016, it is not hard to believe that the targeting of the minority community (eastside) and the tactics the Buffalo Police use to ensnare young African American drivers and their suburban friends who visit the Eastside, are still in practice today. And if I am fortunate enough to be elected the next Mayor of Buffalo, I will encourage my new Commissioner of Police to immediately stop all checkpoints if they are not being equally conducted all across Buffalo or for his department to come up with an enforcement plan that justifies them being broadened to every districts in the city.