Lawmakers and civil rights groups called Monday for an overhaul of the state’s under-enforced racial profiling reporting law in light of a recent Courant report that found police are tougher on minorities during traffic stops.
The Capitol press conference was held in response to the most recent demonstration of racial disparity in the state—an article finding that Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to come away from a traffic stop with a ticket or citation than white drivers.
Isaias T. Diaz, chairman of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said it was evidence the 1999 Alvin Penn Racial Prohibition Act needed a significant overhaul. The law currently requires police departments to forward data on traffic stops to the African American Affairs Commission for assessment.
Diaz recommended the task of assessing the prevalence of racial profiling be handled by a new independent monitoring team appointed by Michael Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy.
The group, which would be housed under the Office of Policy and Management, would have the discretionary capacity to withdraw funding from police departments that are not complying with the law, he said. Right now only 27 of the state’s 92 municipal police departments comply with the act.
“There be some sort of disincentive for noncompliance or some sort of penalty,” he said.
Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D- Hartford, said the report, coupled with the FBI’s arrest of four East Haven police officers for harassing Latinos in January, confirms the state has a racial discrimination problem.
“There is rampant profiling and violations of civil rights, not just of African-Americans across the state but it seems that recently the target of Latinos has been taking place,” he said.
Roldan said Diaz’s suggestions were a step in the right direction, but he also thought the executive branch should ask the courts to appoint a special master to supervise police departments that don’t comply with the law.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D- New Haven, said he was frustrated and upset that another press conference had to be held to address an issue the legislature should have addressed last year, when a similar bill quietly died in the Planning and Development Committee. No one in the state Capitol has any legitimate reason to work against the bill, he said.
“I am tired of people in this state who don’t happen to be of the majority population having to worry about the police,” he said. “They have to worry about when they get stopped whether they’ll be treated differently.”
Holder-Winfield said he wasn’t against profiling if it’s done correctly. For instance, saying the profile was a 6’4” black man with a beard and a jacket was acceptable, he said.
“But when you tell me the profile is a black man, I have a problem,” he said.
Though the Courant’s article analyzed more than 100,000 traffic tickets by what the police officer marked down as the race of the offender, Adam Osmond said both he and his wife have gotten tickets where the officer inaccurately labeled them white.
“I don’t think anyone in this room could confuse me for being white,” he said. “In my opinion this was done in order to lower the percentage of black people and increase the percentage of white people.”
Osmond said he believes it’s an attempt to misinform the statewide database. If police are willing to lie on an official document, he questioned what else may be wrong with the data.
Douglas S. Fuchs, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the Courant’s report doesn’t reflect how police officers across the state behave.
“We believe that the entire data collection process is inadequate and flawed and what little analysis conducted by non state entities thus far does not, in any way, accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business,” he said in a statement.
Fuchs said departments across the state have sent in data, which has never been analyzed. Other departments have been improperly advised on what to do with it, he said. The association has and will continue to have discussions with the African-American Affairs commission around the data collection and analysis, he said.
Fuchs agreed that agencies that do not comply with the law should be held accountable.
Testifying during a public hearing on last year’s version, Chiefs James Strallacci and Anthony Salvatore said the current law had become ineffective.
Initially the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office took the data from departments and issued one report. Last year an ACLU lawyer argued that the chief state’s attorney had from 1999 to 2003 to develop a uniform way for police departments to report their data, but he never did In 2003, the responsibility was shifted to the African-American Affairs Commission.
The association argued that since then, the departments that have continued to comply with the law have been sending data “into a vacuum from which no reports issued.” For that reason, they approved of making the assessment OPM’s responsibility.
But the association had concerns about other aspects of the bill including a requirement that officers give drivers a copy of a form. That could require departments to put printers in each cruiser, which they considered to be an unfunded mandate. Another requirement that officers print duplicate forms would have prolonged each traffic stop, which they said would “annoy the motorist, and waste police time.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose administration did not support the legislation last year, said last month that it is unacceptable the law hasn’t been enforced.
“I have directed my staff and the Department of Transportation to ensure police departments continue to collect, or begin to collect, this data and submit it to an appropriate outside evaluator for analysis and report,” he said.
Lawlor said a federal grant with the Department of Transportation the state can use in order to help fund the initiative. The $1.2 million grant has been sitting untouched by the state since 2006.
The state has been working with Central Connecticut State University in assembling an advisory group to find the most effective way to do the analysis, he said.
“All that is very much in progress,” Lawlor said. “If [the legislature] gives that responsibility to OPM we’ll do it and we’ll do it under what they’re recommending.”