As the call for racial justice grows louder in Buffalo and around the country, the City of Buffalo must dramatically reduce its reliance on fines and fees and end biased traffic enforcement.
The Fair Fines + Fees Coalition is convened by the Western New York Law Center and the African American Health Equity Task Force, and is made up of advocates, researchers, and people directly impacted by disparate ticketing. The Coalition’s mission is to ensure that fines are fairly imposed and enforced, to eliminate fees, and to end exploitative traffic enforcement practices in Buffalo.
In announcing his first steps on police reform on June 10, 2020, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown committed to “restructuring fines and fees” so that they are less costly to people of low-income. The seven reforms below are necessary steps to achieve that goal.
The Coalition calls on the City of Buffalo and Buffalo Common Council to act quickly on the following seven demands:
1. Common Council Should Repeal the 13 New Traffic Fees Added in 2018.The 13 fees added in 2018 harm low-income people unable to pay, are the highest in New York State, and exist only to raise revenue for the city, ranging from a $55 public safety fee to a $100 administrative fee for filing judgments.
•These fees fall disproportionately on Black and brown people because the Buffalo Police Department focuses more patrols in poor Black neighborhoods, and Black people are more likely to be issued multiple traffic tickets, and have their licenses suspended.
•When cities use police to raise revenue, it pushes the police into the role of tax collector rather than public safety officer; it increases the potential for violent encounters with the police and further erodes public trust.
•These fees incentivize the police to issue tickets for minor traffic infractions, such as loud mufflers and broken tail lights, in the most vulnerable communities.
2. BPD Should Issue Fix-It Tickets, Not Fines, for Minor Traffic Infractions.
•The City of Buffalo must codify and direct the police to issue Fix-It Tickets for minor traffic infractions that range from loud mufflers to broken tail lights.
•Fix-It Tickets should allow an individual 14 days or until their court date, whichever is longer, to resolve the issues with their vehicle.• Fix-It Tickets can keep low-income people out of traffic debt for minor infractions.
3. BPD Should Issue Detailed Traffic Stop Receipts to Increase Transparency, Trust, and Accountability.
•While we commend Mayor Brown for issuing an Executive Order that requires BPD to issue ‘stop tickets’, we are asking the City to issue clear direction on how this measure is implemented.
• The City should direct police to issue stop tickets or receipts that record required information: the location and time of the stop, the officer’s information, the reason for the stop, and the race and demographics of the individual stopped.
4. Create a Database of Traffic and Police Stop Data to Monitor for Biased Enforcement.
•Data on police stops should be collected and transferred into the City of Buffalo’s Open Data Portal to allow for monitoring of biased policing and enforcement.
•The data recorded and transferred into the Open Data Portal must include: the location and time of the stop, the officer’s information, the reason for the stop, and the race and demographics of the individual stopped.
•The City of Buffalo should create a position or designate a staff member from the Division of Citizen Services Department, or another appropriate department, to aggregate and regularly post this data to ensure it is accessible to the public.
• This database can increase transparency at traffic stops, hold police accountable, and improve trust between community and police.
5. Waive Fines and Fees for People with Low Income.
• In recognition of the economic recession and calls for justice, the City of Buffalo should waive outstanding traffic fees and traffic tickets, over a year old, for people of low income.
•Waiving outstanding fines and fees will help the most vulnerable people get their licenses back so they can drive to job opportunities and for their basic needs. This will also allow people to get their cars out of impound and help break the cycle of debt.
6. Promote Traffic Safety with Traffic Calming Infrastructure, not with Police, Fines, and Fees.
• Municipalities like Buffalo often spend much of their fee and fine revenue on collection and enforcement costs, rather than on efforts to improve public safety, such as traffic-calming measures.
• Investing in traffic calming infrastructures such as speed bumps, chicanes, and lane shifts, can reduce the City’s reliance on police, fines, and fees to promote traffic safety.
7. Support the Adoption and Local Implementation of the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act (the “Driven by Justice” bill).
• The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act (NY State Senate Bill S5348B) would end the suspension of driver’s licenses due to nonpayment of fines and fees. New York State should quickly adopt this bill, introduced by Senator Tim Kennedy in 2019.
• As Buffalo has some of the highest rates of driver license suspensions (in 2016, zip code 14215 had over 5,000 people with suspended licenses), Common Council should pass a supporting resolution, and the City of Buffalo should add its support for adoption and local implementation.
• Like Buffalo, Rochester is among the highest rates of suspension in the State, and Rochester’s City Council publicly expressed support of this bill in January 2020