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Advocates call for end of Buffalo police traffic enforcement as unit disbands

Advocates call for end of Buffalo police traffic enforcement as unit disbands

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Following news this week that the Buffalo Police Department is disbanding its traffic division, a local coalition of advocates for defunding the police are calling for the city to stop police enforcement of traffic altogether.

Instead, the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition suggested Thursday during a virtual video news conference that the city form a civilian traffic enforcement department whose members would be unarmed. The group also called for the city to transfer the police officers who were in the traffic division to other civilian jobs within City Hall or eliminate the positions completely. Members said the money saved could go toward traffic-calming design measures, such as creating protected bicycle lanes and making driving lanes narrower, which encourage safer, slower driving, as opposed to penalizing drivers.

“In order for us to shrink the size of the Buffalo Police Department we need to invest in other forms of safety and infrastructure for our people,” said Phylicia Brown, executive director of Black Love Resists in the Rust, which describes itself as a “political and organizing home for Black and Brown folks in Buffalo.”

On Tuesday, the department announced that it was eliminating its traffic unit, which has close to 50 officers. The officers are being reassigned to the five patrol districts in the city, police officials said.

The traffic division handled traffic enforcement and security at large events such as festivals, races and parades. But with no large public events planned for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19 restrictions, the department decided that the officers could be put to better use in the districts, Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said Tuesday.

The coalition, made up of members of groups including the WNY Law Center, Partnership for the Public Good, GObike Buffalo and WNY Peace Center, wants the city to curtail the use of ticketing and fines, which they say disproportionately and unfairly target Black and Brown people.

“Instead of extracting millions of dollars from the poorest communities, that money should go into just streets,” said Jalonda Hill, a paralegal with the WNY Law Center.

They also say that transferring police officers to districts likely won’t save much money.

“Outside organizations traditionally pay to secure traffic detail from the BPD for special events such as walks, runs, rides or parades. If organizations other than the BPD typically shoulder the cost of traffic control themselves, then where is the cost savings to the Department?” the coalition said in a statement.

Rebecca Reilly, GObike’s operations and outreach director, pointed to Lackawanna as an example of how to use design concepts – rather than tickets – to make roads safer. Earlier this year, Lackawanna put in new crosswalks and a protected bike lane on Ridge Road. She said the total cost was less than $25,000.

“It makes sense,” she said.

Buffalo police officials say that the traffic unit was cut to save money.

“Our goal with this move is to help further reduce the overtime costs within the department and improve the quality of services we provide to the residents and visitors of the city,” Rinaldo said Thursday.

Rinaldo said traffic safety is a major concern to the public. Buffalo residents have lodged more than 1,060 complaints related to traffic so far this year to the city’s 311 system, he added.

“These issues include motorists running stop signs, red lights and the dangers these actions bring to drivers and pedestrians alike. Any reduction in the number of officers would only cause overtime costs to increase,” Rinaldo said.

Following protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Mayor Byron Brown announced in June a series of police reforms aimed in part in reducing negative interactions between Buffalo police and the public. They included requiring police officers to issue “stop receipts” and offering “fix-it tickets” to give people a chance to do repairs or pay fines before getting a ticket.

Read the article on Buffalo News >