Report: Analysis Shows Racial Disparity in Traffic Stops by Several Connecticut Police Departments
Police departments in Groton, Granby, and Waterbury and state police troops in Tolland and Hartford are more likely to stop black and Hispanic drivers, according to a study conducted by the Institute for Municipal Regional Policy.
The data compiled by researchers at Central Connecticut State University was mandated by a state law that requires traffic stop data to be collected and analyzed. The raw data was released last September, but researchers Tuesday provided detailed analysis of the information to members of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee.
Statewide, of the nearly 620,000 traffic stops made by 102 law enforcement agencies, 13.5 percent of motorists stopped were observed by officers to be black and 11.7 percent were observed to be of Hispanic descent, according to the report.
That means if you are a black or Hispanic driver in Connecticut, you are twice as likely to get stopped by police and more than twice as likely to have your vehicle searched.
“Our analysis produced sufficiently strong results to determine the presence of significant racial and ethnic disparity and warrant further investigation into the source of the observed disparity,” Ken Barone, a research specialist, said.
The five law enforcement jurisdictions cited for the most statistically significant disparities in minority traffic stops were identified using the “Veil of Darkness” model.
Barone said the “Veil of Darkness” technique is the strictest, strongest, and most accurate test in analyzing traffic data. If racial profiling rests on the ability to observe the race of a driver before making a stop, he said, then there should be a statistical disparity between the rate of minority stops occurring in daylight compared to those occurring in darkness.
Researchers identified an “intertwilight window” that allowed them to look at stops made at the same time and location at different points during the year.
“Essentially, some parts of the year at 7 o’clock in the morning it’s light out. And in some parts of the year, at 7 o’clock in the morning it’s dark out,” Barone said.
According to the Veil of Darkness theory, the number of stops made in the light — when skin color is easier to identify — and those made in the dark would remain consistent if there is no bias on the part of the officer.
For Troop C, the state police barracks based in Tolland, the results also indicated “significant racial and ethnic disparity” when it comes to searching vehicles during a traffic stop. The study further found that minority motorists were searched more frequently relative to the rate at which they were actually found with anything illegal.
Connecticut State Police Union President Andrew Matthews said he felt very comfortable saying racial and ethnic discrimination is not practiced by any of the 1,076 members of his union. “I will tell you, however, if it does exist with an individual officer we’re responsible for, it will be dealt with swiftly. It will be dealt with in a serious manner. It’s not acceptable. We don’t tolerate discrimination,” he said.
Matthews said 232,000 traffic stops yielded only 12 racial discrimination complaints against members of the state police during the period analyzed by the researchers.
The same bill that prompted the study also requires police to give drivers a form with which to file a complaint against the officer.
Among the union’s membership there are 58 black males and 58 black females, according to Matthews.
The public information office of the Connecticut State Police referred all questions to Scott Devico, the media liaison for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Devico did not return multiple calls for comment.
He did, however, release a statement from Commissioner Dora B. Schriro.
“Connecticut’s Troopers lead by example. Should any deficiency be identified in the forthcoming analysis, intentional or otherwise, we will address it immediately and comprehensively,” the statement said.
Groton Police Captain Steven Sinagra said Tuesday afternoon that the department had just received the information. “We have to digest the report and understand what it means,” he said, adding that he and Deputy Chief Steven Smith will be attending a meeting with the researchers in the coming days to “better understand what those words mean.”
Waterbury Police Chief Chief Vernon Riddick Jr. also said the department needs more time to review the report and to “ascertain what it is truly saying.”
“The data is not prima facie evidence that racial profiling is occurring, however, we recognize and respect the amount of work that was done to complete this report,” Riddick wrote in a statement.
The study also employed a traditional analysis of each jurisdiction’s data against state averages, the estimated driving population, the number of resident-only stops, and the data from five similar towns. The study, while cautioning that the information derived from it is not necessarily an indication of bias but an indicator that the results are outside the statewide norm, came up with seven departments that “may indicate the presence of racial and ethnic bias.”
While not saying the towns are engaging in racial profiling, the study says they merit closer scrutiny than the rest of the police departments and agencies in the state.
Those towns are Wethersfield, Hamden, Manchester, New Britain, Stratford, Waterbury, and East Hartford.
South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed, whose department did not show up on the researchers’ watch list, said he thinks the study’s findings will spark conversation among municipal police chiefs about best practices that can be shared to improve the climate statewide.
He said it’s also time to start talking about institutionalizing the use of car and body cameras.
“As this generation of officers begins to understand that everything they do is going to be captured in audio and video and they’re going to be held accountable for their actions, I think that helps everybody kind of clean up their act,” Reed said. “It’s not to say officers are doing things wrong, but we all know in any profession that there are some who perhaps get a little carried away in response to their duties.”