BUFFALO, NY — Some people who live in Buffalo have long claimed that it appeared police were disproportionately targeting minority neighborhoods with random traffic checkpoints.
We have tried for two months to obtain data from Buffalo Police, through a Freedom of Information Law request to see if that was true.
So far police have completely ignored our request.
However, the department could not ignore, a similar request from members of the Buffalo Common Council.
Lawmakers made their request in June.
In the interest of full disclosure, that was a month before we made ours — in late July, which has gone unanswered.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda submitted a report to Common Council President Darius Pridgen, who then shared it with us.
“After hearing concerns from citizens I wanted to know the facts, and this is a start," said Pridgen.
The report is comprised of a voluminous number of pages, identified as tally sheets, noting the number and types of summonses, arrests, and property seizures which came about during 121 random traffic checkpoints staged by the BPD “Strike Force” from Aug. 4 through Sept. 20.
It reveals that police took enforcement action on more than 1,900 occasions during the checkpoints, issuing tickets, making arrests, and having vehicles towed for everything from unregistered and uninspected cars, to unlicensed drivers and the discovery of outstanding warrants and contraband in vehicles such as illegal weapons and narcotics.
On several occasions, the data reveals scheduled checkpoints were cancelled due to a lack of available manpower.
While widely scattered throughout the city, the majority of checkpoints (some 72 out of the 121) were conducted in the Lovejoy, North, and Niagara Council District respectively.
Lovejoy District Common Council Member Richard Fontana told WGRZ-TV he has not had many complaints about the presence of the checkpoints in his district.
While the tally sheets note the council districts and the general area within them where the checkpoints occurred, police redacted the specific locations — Pridgen was told, for tactical reasons.
“Sometimes the police will return to those sites, or they might be located in front of someone’s home,” Pridgen said.
However, the data only reflects a seven week snapshot of police activity. A snapshot taken after WGRZ-TV and members of the Common council began asking questions.
“This data does not prove what happened before we asked for the information,” noted Pridgen, while noting as well that he would expect some skepticism from those who might suggest that the cops — once queried —varied the location of the checkpoints to make it appear that their placement was more equitable than some suggest.
“So what we are looking for now is some historical data, and the Police Commissioner has informed me that there is at least six months of data from before our resolution was filed, Pridgen said.
"When we receive that information, then we’ll be able to see if the conducting of these checkpoints was equitable before we asked for it, or was it made that way after that?”
Pridgen also wants to see the results of the police checkpoints on a more regular basis, and to have them made available to the public from this point forward.
“There is no reason not to allow the public to view the data…these checkpoints are conducted in full view of the public,” Pridgen said. “And I think it’s part of being transparent, and that’s important too because it’s a way to build trust between the police and the community they serve.
With more trust, perhaps more people will be willing to speak with the police, and that way perhaps more murders and other crimes can be solved.”
Meanwhile, the Freedom of Information request filed by WGRZ-TV on July 29, and which sought data for the past year, has yet to be acknowledged by the Buffalo PD.
And because the receipt of it wasn't acknowledged within a five day period (as required by law) we’ve turned the matter over to our attorneys.