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Buffalo sued for locating its roadblocks in communities of color

Since at least 2013, the city of Buffalo has been running crime control roadblocks on a near-daily basis. These roadblocks require every passing motorist, or a randomly selected group, to stop and be inspected for criminal activity. That activity ranges from having improperly tinted windows to driving while impaired.

The roadblocks are a major hassle for motorists, especially those who are ticketed. According to TheNewspaper.com, between 2013 and 2015 the number of traffic tickets issued rose by 62 percent. The number of driver's license suspensions jumped by 58 percent -- and that may be because the drivers could not afford the towing and ticket fees.

Are the roadblocks working to reduce crime? Maybe not, according to researchers from the State University of Buffalo Law School. They found that "Operation Strikeforce" mostly resulted in tickets for non-safety items such as tinted window citations, which tripled. During the same period, arrests for serious moving violations and DWI dropped off, and it's hard to say how that was related to the roadblocks.

What we do know is that, during the first two months of the program, the Buffalo Police Department conducted 67 roadblocks. Of those, 96 percent were located in communities of color on the East Side. The city denies a racial motive for the location of the roadblocks.

"These checkpoints are directly harming Buffalo's low-income communities of color," said the Western New York Law Center, a civil rights group. "How many people have lost their licenses because they couldn't afford to pay the tickets issued at these checkpoints?"

The Western New York Law Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice are suing the city over the roadblocks. They claim that the city and the Buffalo PD have refused to turn over requested documents regarding the location and operation of the roadblocks.

"For too long, the Buffalo Police Department has been shielding its checkpoints program from public scrutiny," said a spokesperson for the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. "The Buffalo Police Department must search its records and provide responsive documents as soon as possible."

The lawsuit is not meant to address any specific ticket or license suspension. It is mainly meant to shed light on the decision-making process for locating the roadblocks almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods.

If you have been arrested for DWI or ticketed at one of these roadblocks, however, the fact that the roadblocks are focused on communities of color could impact your case. We strongly recommend discussing the issue with a lawyer.

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