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City needs to tell the truth about 'Clean Sweep'

We find it disturbing that this mayor, like his predecessor, has turned a blind eye to protection of the civil rights of the citizens of Buffalo in supporting the expansion of the "Clean Sweep" operations in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Although the City of Buffalo maintains that the Clean Sweep initiative is directed toward cracking down on quality-of-life problems and improving troubled neighborhoods, we find its tactics questionable at best, and disingenuous at worst.

According to information obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the Western Regional Office of the New York Civil Liberties Union found that in the past, these operations have been planned in meetings at the U.S. attorney's office, an odd place to develop neighborhood improvement initiatives.

Moreover, certain documents were refused to us because of ongoing investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

If this is not a law enforcement operation, subject to the due-process provisions of the law, then why are taxpayer dollars being wasted so that highly paid Buffalo police, state parole, county probation, U.S. marshals and representatives of the U.S. attorney's office can go door-to-door distributing smoke detectors and checking for illegal gas and cable hookups?

Since at least 2002, the NYCLU has monitored these thinly veiled subversions of the Fourth Amendment. The means being used to carry out these operations are illegal, intimidating and deceptive to citizens in neighborhoods that really need assistance, not just once-a-year invasions by city, state and federal government agents.

Given the overwhelming poverty in this city, the idea of taking one block of one street in one district once a month (during warm weather) and trying to convince people that these efforts are actually conducted to provide assistance is ludicrous and exploitative.

And what of the secrecy? If the mayor really wants to help these neighborhoods, why aren't the sweeps announced ahead of time so that residents can arrange to be at home and are better prepared to alert officials to all of the health, safety and quality-of-life issues they are concerned about, not simply whatever occurs to them at the moment?

The beneficial work of local agencies like Save Our Streets and Neighborhood Housing Services is diminished by the intimidation of our poorest citizens, many in immigrant neighborhoods, whose confusion is only exacerbated when they wake up to find federal marshals and local law enforcement agents pounding on their door, ostensibly to address their quality-of-life issues.

It's time for the mayor to announce the sweeps, bring in independent legal observers and truly show the city's respect for its citizens' civil liberties as well as its problems.

John A. Curr III is executive director of the Western Regional Office, New York Civil Liberties Union.

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