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Syracuse councilors question police chief: Why are Black people pulled over more than white people?

Kent Buckner.jpg
Syracuse Police Chief Kent Buckner.

Syracuse councilors questioned Police Chief Kent Buckner on Wednesday over why Black people are seven times more likely to be pulled over compared to white people. That statistic comes from a Syracuse.com article based on the city’s Right to Know data, released for the first time this summer.

The article also said Black people are more likely to be stopped than white people, despite white people being more likely to be charged with a crime. At the Council meeting, Buckner called it an ugly truth that police disproportionately come into contact with people of color, but he said there’s a reason. The areas where they are having challenges are in Black and brown neighborhoods, and Buckner said the victims and suspects of violent crimes are disproportionately Black and brown.

“We stop a lot of people in high crime areas, but that certainly does not, in my opinion, imply that you were profiled, it just means that the area is more heavily saturated with crime, so you’re more likely to come in contact with police,” Buckner said. “Yes, we have high numbers of contacts in these communities, but we’re doing it without incident. We’re not a bullish organization. We’re not a perfect organization. But the data clearly shows that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, where we’re supposed to do it, and we’re coming into contact with the right people.”

Buckner’s answers did not satisfy Councilor-at-Large Ronnie White Jr.

"I thought he was basically using those statistics as fearmongering,” White said. “He wants to justify the use of these contextual stops. Maybe we shouldn’t just be pulling over random people. I know he doesn’t want to admit that, he can’t admit that, but if you look at the data, that’s exactly what’s happening.”

This comes at a time when staffing levels in the police department are alarmingly low, according to Buckner. The department is understaffed by about 75 officers and it’s causing significant issues, like longer response times, using more overtime and not investigating cold cases.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.