Investigative Post: "911 calls down 5%; traffic stops up 48%"

Date: October 18, 2021

By Geoff Kelly | October 18, 2021

You might imagine Buffalo police spend their shifts busting drug dealers, foiling burglaries and taking guns off the street.

There’s some of that, certainly. 

But an analysis by Investigative Post of five years of 911 calls shows that sort of policing accounts for only a sliver of what cops do.

More than anything else, they hand out traffic tickets.

A lot fewer people have called Buffalo police about crime in recent years, according to our analysis. 

The number of 911 calls for high-priority crimes — such as shots fired, domestic violence and assaults in progress — fell almost 21 percent between 2015 and 2019. 

Citizen calls to 911 for all concerns — ranging from fights and drug-dealing to illegally parked cars and loud parties — dropped more than 5 percent.

Traffic stops, meanwhile, rose by nearly 48 percent. 

The biggest increases in traffic stops were in predominantly poor neighborhoods on the city’s East Side and  Lower West Side, as well as downtown. The smallest increases were in predominantly white neighborhoods in South and North Buffalo.

The rise in traffic stops coincides with a push by Mayor Byron Brown and the Common Council to find new revenue to plug holes in the city budget, in part by handing out more traffic tickets and increasing fines and fees.


To attorney Miles Gresham, the rise in traffic stops is evidence the city ought to rethink policing entirely. 

Traffic stops frequently result in fines levied on those least able to afford them, Gresham said. They sometimes lead to unconstitutional searches of vehicles, drivers and passengers, he said. 

Those searches can escalate into confrontations. And they require a significant investment of officer time. 

A recent study by Partnership for the Public Good, Gresham’s employer, cites US Bureau of Justice Statistics data indicating:

62 percent of interactions between police and the public across the nation in 2015 arose from traffic stops and accidents.
Another 30 percent of interactions resulted from various other noncriminal situations — medical emergencies, for example. 
Just 8 percent of interactions were the result of a citizen reporting a crime or an officer making an arrest.
“If we change what police respond to, we will need fewer police,” Gresham told Investigative Post. “And the police that remain can focus on real problems and real crime — like murders, like rapes, like domestic violence.”

Buffalo’s department doesn’t publish breakdowns of how officers spend their workdays, according to Colleen Kristich, the author of the PPG report.

Read the full article on the Investigative Post website here.