In its recent editorial, The News’ editorial board argued to keep the Buffalo Police Department in traffic enforcement. We respectfully disagree.
The board makes flawed assumptions about the efficacy of traffic enforcement by police, arguing that more traffic enforcement decreases the risk of speeding and dangerous driving.
However, a recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that speeding citations have limited effects on deterrence.
The BPD’s history of disproportionately stopping Black drivers also counters the argument that police improve community safety. Stop receipt data from 2020 shows that 68% of receipts were issued to Black motorists, despite Black people making up roughly 37% of the city’s population. This apparent racism also drives the disproportionate and unjustified use of police force against unarmed people of color.
Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with police, creating opportunities for police to continue to brutalize and kill people of color. It happened in Buffalo to Quentin Suttles and Jose Hernandez-Rossy, and to Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and innumerable others. Decreasing the chances of police encounters is thus an urgent safety measure for Black residents.
Removing police from traffic enforcement would also save money. The BPD uses 28% of the city’s budget, and police officers have higher salaries than most municipal employees. Entrusting traffic enforcement to unarmed, non-police employees would cost less to maintain and decrease the risk of deadly police encounters.
Finally, committing traffic enforcement to community residents can create jobs and improve interactions with traffic safety officers.
Targeted changes to Buffalo’s infrastructure will improve traffic safety and decrease reliance on punitive traffic enforcement. The board rebuffs this proposal, arguing that updating road design could take decades. But this has not been the case in other areas. In Amherst, speed-reducing traffic circles installed on Harlem Road and Kensington Avenue have made simple and impactful traffic improvements. Similar approaches could be taken on Buffalo’s most dangerous streets, with near immediate results.
The editorial board’s myopic decry of “defund the police” as a “foolish” slogan exemplifies what Martin Luther King Jr. called “shallow understanding from people of goodwill”: people who say, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods,” and who “paternalistically believe [they] can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”
Defunding the police is an exceedingly practical step toward redressing systemic racism and classism. Reallocating funds from a bloated police budget into social programs is sorely needed after decades of failed liberal police reforms and of gutting essential community services that define truly civilized societies.
We do not advocate defunding the police in haste or malice, but because, 52 years after King’s death, police are still empowered to murder, torture and maim Black people with impunity. This is why we advocate for design, and not police.
Jalonda Hill is a member of Buffalo’s Fair Fines + Fees Coalition.