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Police checkpoints common in Lovejoy, not in University and Delaware districts

Buffalo police conducted more traffic checkpoints this year in Lovejoy than in any other Common Council district, according to figures released Tuesday.

But no one's complaining to Lovejoy Common Council Member Richard A. Fontana about the 92 checkpoints in his district.

“No one’s complained to me,” Fontana said. “They realize it’s keeping the community safer. I want to commend the police for using proper judgement.”

Police release some data in response to complaints about checkpoints

The North and Fillmore districts had the next-highest number of checks, 68 and 65, respectively.

Meanwhile, checkpoints were less common in other districts. The districts with the fewest checkpoints were University, 34; Delaware, 35; and Ellicott, 43.

"I have no preference whether there are more or less checks in the Ellicott District, as long as all of the checks are conducted fairly and with an explainable strategy and process across the city," said Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District.

The three other districts — South, Masten and Niagara — each had roughly the average number of checkpoints, 57.

Buffalo's traffic checkpoints came under fire in August by members of Black Lives Matter-Buffalo, who asked the state Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation into the Buffalo Police Department. The group alleged police routinely discriminate against people of color.

The group cited a study by the University at Buffalo Law School and Cornell University that found Buffalo police participated in “routine, daily suspicionless crime-suppression checkpoints” in a letter to the Attorney General's Office.

In the two years after Buffalo police in 2012 formed the “Strike Force Unit,” which uses checkpoints as part of its strategy to target gangs and drugs, the number of arrests leveled off but the department issued more than 65,000 tickets, according to the study. That's a 65 percent increase over the previous two years.

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In June, the Council passed a resolution directing the Buffalo Police Department to provide data on its checkpoints – particularly regarding where and when the police  conducted them – going back three years.

The Buffalo Police Department has compiled checkpoint location tally sheets and submitted them to Pridgen, who released an updated tally on Tuesday.

"This report does not offer any demographic data based on race," Pridgen said. "It would take more information for me to come to any fair conclusion concerning racial disparities of these previous checkpoints."

 

It seems that the police checkpoints were conducted across the city, he said.

"Some areas are heavier than others, but what the (police) commissioner said to me today is that they’re looking at different strategies to conduct the safety checks,” Pridgen said.

 

A Buffalo News analysis of the checkpoint data showed:

  • August had the highest number of traffic stops with 79, followed by June, 76, and July, 75.
  • The fewest number of checkpoints were in February, 20; January, 22; and October, 27.
  • The North District had 20 checkpoints in September, the highest single-month tally of any district.
  • Police conducted an average of six checkpoints a month across the city, but some districts went without a checkpoint for an entire month. For example, the Niagara, North and South didn’t have any traffic checkpoints in February. The University District had none in July. The Delaware District had none in January, February and May, while Fillmore had none in October.
  • The Lovejoy, Masten and Ellicott districts were the only districts with at least one checkpoint every month of 2017 through October.
  • The most checkpoints in any one day was six on Aug. 26, when four happened in the Delaware District and two in the North District.

 

 

Checkpoints are conducted primarily to promote traffic safety, but they're also useful in helping deter crime, police officials have said. Buffalo police choose the locations based on complaints from the public, as well as frequency of traffic accidents.

“I think it’s important to get this information out in order to continue to build trust between law-enforcement and the public without compromising police operations,”  Pridgen said.

He has said that he wants the checkpoint data to continue to be provided to the public on a quarterly basis.

Fontana, who represents the Lovejoy District, said he’s been to almost every block club meeting in his district since February and hasn’t heard any rumblings from residents. In fact, members of two block clubs applauded police at recent meetings for issuing more than 300 summonses for speeders and stop-sign runners over the summer, he said.

Other police data from Sept. 21 through Oct. 27 showed that police issued 481 traffic summonses at checkpoints, made 10 misdemeanor arrests, seized narcotics once, and had nine vehicles towed.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda sent the data to Pridgen last Friday.

Derenda said he was not prepared to comment on Tuesday night.

“What I learned is that these checkpoints are done almost every single day,” Pridgen said. “If they don’t do them it’s because there’s no manpower or there’s a city emergency. I thought that was quite interesting.”

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