It’s been more than a decade since the Alvin Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act was passed into law, but the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said that since its passage “there was a failure and refusal to fulfill the obligations.”
Under the legislation passed in 1999, municipal police departments were supposed to report traffic stop data to the state on an annual basis. The data was then going to be analyzed for racial profiling.
Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU-CT, told the Connecticut State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Tuesday, that it only happened once in all the years the law has been on the books. She said the lack of leadership necessary to complete the collection of the data from municipal police departments has persisted over the years almost since the inception of the law.
Revisions to the law died during the last legislative session in the Planning & Development Committee. The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association said it didn’t necessarily oppose the revisions, but wondered whether the new requirement which says the motorist will get a copy of the form would force them to install printers in their cruisers. They viewed the bill as an unfunded mandate.
Meanwhile, the Office of Policy and Management opposed it because it didn’t want to have to collect the data, since there was no money for staff to complete the task.
Michael Lawlor, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser at OPM, said Tuesday that the “policy goal is good, but making it happen is “complicated and expensive.” It’s unclear if the administration will support similar legislation in 2012 because it has yet to discuss it.
To date, only a portion of the police departments have complied with the law by providing the data on motor vehicle stops to the African-American Affairs Commission, which was charged with ascertaining whether racial profiling was occurring.
According to 2010 data, 27 departments have submitted reports on a regular or consistent basis — meaning annually or monthly.
But Staub argued the data being submitted is virtually meaningless because its being collected in all sorts of data fields. She said in 2010 when the ACLU asked eight police departments for their racial profiling data they learned none of it was uniformly reported.
She said the chief state’s attorney had from 1999 until 2003 to develop a uniform way for police departments to report their data, but he never did. The reporting responsibilities were then handed over to the African-American Affairs Commission, which has yet to produce a complete report.
The report is “deficient in that it doesn’t acknowledge the failure at the outset of mandating form,” Staub said. She said police departments have to know which information to collect so when its collected it can be reported and analyzed.
The Freedom of Information request to eight municipal departments “acknowledges police departments were allowed to use whatever form of report they wanted,” she said. The information it received was all over the board, including information from Waterbury saying it only made five traffic stops in a particular month.
The Connecticut State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is looking at the issue at the same time as the U.S. Census confirmed that Connecticut has become significantly more diverse over the past decade. In the last decade, the state’s Latino and Asian populations increased by 49.6 percent and 64 percent respectively with a 13.4 percent increase in its non-Hispanic African American community.
Staub’s office got involved with the issue of racial profiling when the U.S. Department of Justice asked if her office knew about the law when it was investigating racial profiling by the East Haven Police Department. At the time Staub was new to the position and told the committee Tuesday that no one she talked to even knew about the law.
In Rhode Island, which passed a law similar to Connecticut’s back in 1999, they had already gone through a second round of data collection by 2003 and filed a lawsuit to get compliance, she said.
“We don’t have any meaningful way to access what’s happening out there,” she added.
Staub said she’s been advocating for the state to adopt Rhode Island’s model.
Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute of Race and Justice at Northeastern University, who has done research on the racial profiling law in Rhode Island, said his research tells him that when police officers have this data it can change people’s behavior.
He said of all of the research done, none has found widespread racial bias in police departments. He said it’s generally a few officers, who may not even know they‘re doing it. And the complaints from police it takes too long to fill out a form is unfounded.
He said he’s found that requiring an officer to jot down a little more data, is more useful in the long run than saving the officer 10 seconds on a form. He said the problem is most of the forms in police departments are paper although there is a move to electronic forms.
He said the police departments that have done this data collection well appreciate the data because it helps them make better policing decisions.
Tuesday’s hearing was the second hearing the Connecticut Advisory Committee had on the subject of racial profiling.
The committee is considering two issues: “What are the new challenges for policing as a result of the changing demographics of the state of Connecticut? Where there is evidence of civil rights violations, what policies might prevent such violations in the future while also encouraging more consistent and effective law enforcement?”
Public comment ends Jan. 6, 2012.
Public comment can be sent to: Ivy Davis, Director Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 9th St. NW, Washington, DC 20425