Lockport police catch flak for SAFE Act arrest

LOCKPORT – The City of Lockport Police Department has found itself under fire for enforcing an unpopular part of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which limits how many rounds of ammunition may be carried in a standard magazine.

A Town of Lockport man who was a passenger during a traffic stop was charged when he turned over a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a holster from the glove compartment to an officer on Saturday. The gun was legal, but police say the 10 rounds of 9 mm ammunition found in the magazine were not, because they violated the state law that states it is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess a magazine with more than seven rounds. Exemptions are authorized only for firing ranges or Olympic, collegiate or other sanctioned shooting competitions. Active-duty police officers are also exempt.

Paul A. Wojdan, 26, of Parkwood Drive, was charged with unlawful possession of an ammunition-feeding device and posted $250 bail. An arraignment is scheduled for today in City Court.

Lockport Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said this is the first time city police have made an arrest involving the New York SAFE Act and admitted they were getting compared to Nazis on social media.

“One of the comments said, ‘When are you going to start loading people into cattle cars?’ ” said Eggert.

But he said the department’s role is to enforce the law, whether it is popular or not.

“It’s on the books, and if we see it, we have to do something about it,” Eggert said.

Capt. Michael Niethe said the magazine was inspected after the car was pulled over after midnight on South Transit Street near Strauss Road by Officer Adam Piedmont. He said the driver led the officer on a brief chase from the City of Lockport into the Town of Lockport.

According to police, the driver, Tanisha D. White, also of Parkwood Drive, was charged with speeding, failure to stop for an emergency vehicle and being an unlicensed driver.

“Officer Piedmont asked if they had any weapons in the car, and luckily [Wojdan] said yes and handed over a gun from the glove compartment. He had a permit, so he was allowed to have the gun, but he had too many rounds of ammunition in the gun,” said Niethe.

New York State Police released a field guide for troopers in September regarding the law, which includes sections on magazines and definitions of an assault weapon.

The guide informs troopers they must have probable cause of criminal activity to inspect magazines: “If an officer has probable cause to believe that a particular magazine is unlawful, he or she may seize and inspect it. If there is founded suspicion of criminal activity, the officer may ask for consent to check the magazine. However, the mere existence of a magazine, which may or may not be legal, does not provide probable cause to believe that any law is being broken.”

In the State Police manual, it says that if a person produces a permit and there is no indication of unlawful conduct, an inspection is unnecessary, and troopers are told to secure the weapon temporarily for the duration of the stop and return it to the motorist at the conclusion of the encounter.

Eggert said the law was still new and that local police are looking at it on a case-by-case basis.

“We certainly are not going to just stop a car and ask for a permit so we can check the number of bullets in the magazine,” Eggert said. “We usually run these by the DA’s office, but in this particular case, the officer didn’t have that luxury. He had to make a decision on the fly – and it’s the law, and there’s nothing wrong with that decision.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com