Po­lice need to get it right

Traf­fic check­points are use­ful tools, but they must be con­ducted prop­erly


It’s good news for all that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric T. Sch­nei­der­man’s of­fice is in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­lice use of traf­fic check­points in Buffalo and en­force­ment sweeps in pub­lic hous­ing. Po­lice may not like it at first, but once com­plete, the bound­aries and rules should be clear to all.

The first thing to note is that such po­lice ac­tiv­i­ties are not un­usual. To be con­sti­tu­tional, though, they must be con­ducted in a way that doesn’t stray into un­equal en­force­ment or that vi­o­lates due process rights.

Mem­bers of Black Lives Mat­ter Buffalo and other groups have com­plained to Sch­nei­der­man that city po­lice en­gage in a “re­peated, per­sis­tent and wide­spread pat­tern of un­con­sti­tu­tional polic­ing,” aimed at racial mi­nori­ties. They based their com­plaint on a two-year study by the Univer­sity at Buffalo and Cor­nell Univer­sity law schools.

Po­lice of­fi­cials and Mayor By­ron W. Brown say through a spokesman that it isn’t the case.

It is surely true, as some Com­mon Coun­cil mem­bers have said, that many of their con­stituents value po­lice at­ten­tion in their neigh­bor­hoods. Of­fi­cers do es­sen­tial work that all res­i­dents must rely upon.

But there are rules to fol­low and the uni­ver­si­ties’ re­port raises some red flags. For ex­am­ple, it re­ported that be­tween 2006 and 2015, African-Amer­i­cans in Buffalo were seven times more likely to be ar­rested than whites for mis­de­meanor marijuana pos­ses­sion. There may be le­git­i­mate rea­sons for that, but the dis­par­ity raises ques­tions.

The com­plaint to Sch­nei­der­man goes fur­ther, al­leg­ing that Brown and po­lice are re­spon­si­ble for such poli­cies as rou­tine, un­jus­ti­fied pedes­trian stops and ar­rests made with­out rea­son­able cause. It also claims doc­u­mented beat­ings of un­armed mi­nori­ties by po­lice.

Those al­le­ga­tions go to the core of polic­ing. Sch­nei­der­man needs to de­ter­mine if Buffalo po­lice are go­ing out of bounds and, if so, how to fix that prob­lem while still per­form­ing their es­sen­tial du­ties.

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