At a Glance
The complaint was filed June 28, 2018.
National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Western New York Law Center
Black Love Resists in the Rust, Dorethea Franklin, Taniqua Simmons, De'Jon Hall
In the summer of 2012, the Buffalo Police Department created a "Strike Force" Unit to aggressively patrol and conduct vehicle checkpoints in "high crime" areas of the city. While purportedly set up to enforce traffic laws and promote traffic safety, the vehicle checkpoints were often used as a pretext to engage in "proactive" criminal law enforcement activities with respect to Black drivers, without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond.
BPD checkpoints often blocked off streets and intersections and could last for as long as 45 minutes, interrupting residents as they attempted to go about their daily activities such as traveling to school or to work. After the checkpoints were instituted, there was a 92 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets issued in the City of Buffalo. The vast majority of tickets were issued to drivers in Buffalo's poor and predominantly Black neighborhoods on the East Side.
Data shows that 40 percent of the checkpoints were located in three Buffalo census tracts, each of which has a population that is more than 88 percent Black. In addition, a statistical analysis found that the racial composition of a neighborhood was a stronger predictor of where the checkpoints were placed than crime or traffic accidents.
In addition, beginning in 2015, New York State legislation allowed the City of Buffalo, through its Traffic Violations Agency (BTVA), to keep almost all of the revenue collected from traffic tickets issued by BPD, thereby creating a huge financial incentive for the checkpoints and aggressive traffic enforcement generally. Not surprisingly, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of traffic tickets issued in 2015, the majority of which were issued by BPD's Patrol Division. BPD officers often issued multiple tickets for a single violation (e.g. four tickets for tinted windows—one for each window) or during a single stop.
The City revenue raised through traffic tickets has continued to increase each year since 2015, while the severe racial disproportionality in traffic enforcement has also continued. Each unpaid traffic ticket results in a driver's license suspension, and Black drivers in Buffalo are four times more likely than white drivers to have their licenses suspended.
In 2017, public outcry against the checkpoints and other heavy-handed and discriminatory practices of the Buffalo PD began to build, and Black Lives Matter Buffalo, in partnership with Professor Anjana Malhotra from SUNY Buffalo Law School, filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Office Civil Rights Bureau regarding the vehicle checkpoints and BPD's policing practices in and around public housing buildings.
In 2018, CCR partnered with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) and the Western New York Law Center to challenge these practices. The plaintiffs are Black Love Resists in the Rust, a grassroots police accountability organization, and individuals who were subject to suspicionless checkpoint stops and heavily ticketed in Buffalo’s East Side.
The case challenges the unconstitutional use of suspicionless vehicle checkpoint stops for general crime control under the Fourth Amendment, the discriminatory enforcement of the checkpoints in neighborhoods of color under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the financial motive behind the aggressive ticketing practices under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is part of CCR's longstanding work against discriminatory policing and racial injustice.