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Lawsuit alleging discriminatory traffic enforcement by the BPD seeks go-ahead from federal court

Three white and dark navy trucks lined along the road. The vehicles read "Buffalo Police". A building in the background reads "Trinity Title & Abstract Corp."
Dallas Taylor | WBFO News
Buffalo Police cars parked on a city street

A 2018 lawsuit alleging discriminatory traffic enforcement practices by the Buffalo Police Department is seeking the go-ahead from the federal court to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit against the City of Buffalo claims that the BPD “has unlawfully targeted Black and Latino motorists for aggressive, punitive traffic enforcement,” through police checkpoints, ticketing practices and traffic stops - violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in the process.

The claimants are seeking restitution for thousands of Black and Latino drivers stopped by the BPD.

According to the lawsuit, the BPD ticketed Black and Latino drivers for minor traffic violations with the aim of creating revenue for the city - all with the “full knowledge of the city’s highest leadership.”

The case further alleges that officers were urged to issue tickets and conduct traffic stops in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods through “an implicit quota system."

The suit was first filed in June 2018 on behalf of the Buffalo-based plaintiffs Black Love Resists in the Rust by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Western New York Law Center, and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.

The city declined to comment on the latest development in the lawsuit, with the city’s Director of Communications and Senior Advisor to the Mayor, Mike DeGeorge, telling WBFO “the city does not comment on pending litigation.”

Much of the suit focuses on the traffic enforcement practices of Buffalo's now disbanded police unit known as the “Strike Force” which conducted vehicle checkpoints in the city between 2012 and 2017, according to the lawsuit.

In the latest development in the years’-long legal proceedings, the legal team for the plaintiffs filed for class certification in federal court Thursday. That means that the groups of people seeking restitution from the city have now been further defined, and the plaintiff's team is seeking the court's approval of these class definitions. Certification would allow the case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

The classes proposed for certification are:

• A Checkpoint Class which includes all individuals who received a ticket or were arrested at a BPD “traffic safety” vehicle checkpoint on or after June 28, 2015.

• A Tinted Windows Class defined as All Black and/or Latino individuals who received multiple tinted windows tickets from the BPD in a single traffic stop on or after June 28, 2015.

• A Traffic Enforcement Class defined as all Black and/or Latino individuals who have been or will be subjected to traffic stops, traffic tickets, and “traffic safety” vehicle checkpoints by the BPD.

The filing comes after years of discovery and 34 depositions of “various officials” according to Anjana Malhotra, Senior Attorney at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice – one of the legal groups representing the plaintiffs in the case.

“The City of Buffalo turned over hundreds of thousands of documents, complaints, responses to complaints, issues within the department, policies, practices [in discovery],” Malhotra said. “So this motion seeks to certify these three classes, including a class of all minority drivers in Buffalo, in order to obtain system wide relief - and in some cases damages - for the deep harms that the Black and Latino community have suffered as a result of the Buffalo Police Department practices.”

As well as potential monetary restitution, the plaintiffs are asking for “accountability and oversight measures” in the BPD according to a NCLEJ press release.

The legal and civil rights groups acting on behalf of the plaintiffs also submitted to the court three expert reports including a statistical report, a police practices report, and a historical expert report.

Legal procedure dictates the City of Buffalo has two weeks to respond to the case, but Malhotra says her team intends to give the city “a couple of additional weeks” due to the volume of evidence submitted to the court.

WBFO conducted an analysisof traffic stop receipts issued by the BPD between June 2020 and June 2023 and found that Black drivers were over 3x more likely to be stopped by the BPD compared to white drivers.

Holly Kirkpatrick is a journalist whose work includes investigations, data journalism, and feature stories that hold those in power accountable. She joined WBFO in December 2022.
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