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Buffalo's Common Council approves new Right to Know law for drivers pulled over by police

A uniformed police officer writing a ticket
New York State Police

If the mayor signs off on it, Buffalo Police will be required to tell drivers why they were pulled over through a new Right to Know law. The Common Council approved the measure during Tuesday's session.

There are a number of similar laws in other fields controlling access to information about things, like the chemicals at work. This is different.

The law would create a right to know why drivers are pulled over, the name of the officer who pulled them over and the overall cause. The Police Department would also have an accessible web site to show every stop receipt, so the totality of stops can be reviewed and studied.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Carin Gordon said the law would make the stops more transparent.

"It does not take away any rights and it does not make it more easy for individuals to skirt the law, it just provides a layer of transparency through the provision of the stop receipts and also the business cards that police officers would be required to issue when they stop individuals on the street," Gordon said.

Attorney Miles Gresham stands on the steps of Buffalo City Hall in a blue checkered shirt
Mike Desmond
Attorney Miles Gresham, a policy fellow with the Partnership for the Public Good and co-chair of the Minority Bar Association Minority Criminal Justice Reform Task Force, was one of several attorneys who praised the Right to Know law after Tuesday's Common Council session.

The new law is aimed at improving relationships between police and citizens, heavily minority citizens. Studies show minority drivers are ticketed disproportionately more than others and police pulling over drivers have become flashpoints in America's racial turmoil, with some ending in deaths.

"The Right to Know Law is a good step in the right direction that will rebuild the trust and restore faith in our Law Department, that they're not just being targeted, folks are not being targeted and that when police officers do pull people over, they do have a legitimate reason and then there is a record of that stop," said Common Councilmember Ulysees Wingo.

"Everything that we have written, so far, is not punitive for police officers," said Common Council President Darius Pridgen. "It's about how do we build more trust. How do we ensure that the police officers and those good ones who are on the street are respected and we know who they are and that the people are respected."

Speaking after the session, Attorney Anna Marie Richardson also hoped the law would improve relations between citizens and police.

"Requiring police to communicate with the people they are sworn to protect and service is only going to increase the police officers' sense of connection with the people they are supposed to be protecting and serving," Richardson said.

"We feel that when a police officer is asked, 'What is your name? What is your badge number?' that escalates the situation and it escalates the situation where often times it leads to arrest or physical altercation where it shouldn't and this law will help fix that," said attorney John Elmore, co-chair of the Minority Bar Association Minority Criminal Justice Reform Task Force.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.