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Eliminate 2018 Traffic Fees and Address Unequal Traffic Enforcement in Buffalo

Date: Jun 18, 2020
Author(s): Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, George Nicholas, Jalonda Hill
Topic(s): Criminal Justice: Policing
Type: Policy Brief

The Buffalo Common Council should repeal its July 2018 amendment to Chapter 175 of the City
of Buffalo Code that added 13 new fees related to traffic violations. The thirteen fees:
• Are dramatically higher than those charged by other cities in New York;
• Do not promote public safety and are not reliable revenue sources;
• Exacerbate Buffalo’s already severe problems with poverty, racial disparity, and
community-police relations.

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. Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting Buffalo’s neighborhoods of color—the same zip codes and city blocks that have long faced health disparities and faced the burden of disproportionate fines and fees together with overpolicing. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a severe deficit for Buffalo and many municipalities, local governments must resist the urge to fill budget gaps with monetary sanctions that harm primarily residents of low income and residents of color.

The impacts of relying on fines and fees for city revenue fall most heavily on those with low incomes, for many reasons. Low income neighborhoods are more heavily policed, leading to more ticketing in those neighborhoods. People with low incomes often cannot afford vehicle maintenance, which leads to more stops for issues such as broken tail-lights and loud mufflers. And when they do receive tickets, people with low incomes often cannot afford them. This can lead to paying the fines and fees but, as a result, not paying rent, not buying enough food or medicine, or otherwise compromising a family’s health and safety. Or it can lead to not paying a fine and then facing still more fees and possibly a driver’s license suspension.

Where cities rely on fines and fees to balance their budgets, law enforcement officers stop lowincome individuals and people of color frequently for low-level incidents or for no just cause at all, in pursuit of additional citations and fines. In short, these unnecessary interactions with police—and the longterm impact of the fines and fees that result—criminalize poverty and reinforce biased police enforcement.