With bipartisan support, the House gave final passage Monday to a bill strengthening a law requiring police to report traffic stop data. The data will be analyzed by the state for evidence of racial profiling.
The bill modifies the 1999 Alvin Penn Racial Profiling Prohibition Act.
For more than a decade, the state has failed to enforce the law requiring municipal police departments to annually report traffic stop data to the African-American Affairs Commission. The data was then going to be analyzed for racial profiling. But since the law was passed in 1999, only one report has been issued. According to 2010 data, only 27 of the state’s police departments comply with the reporting aspect of the law and the data that has been reported hasn’t been assessed by the state.
The bill cleared the chamber in a 142-1 vote after 90 minutes of debate.
The legislation puts the Office of Policy and Management in charge of enforcing the reporting requirements and assessing the data. It also requires the creation of a racial profiling advisory board, and a standardized form police will use to report the data.
The form will include details and reasons for the traffic stop as well as the officer’s perception of the drivers race, color, ethnicity, age, and gender.
The bill’s proponent, Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said it also requires police to provide the individual stopped with a notice so they may file a complaint if they feel their stop was motivated solely by race, color, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
“The individual who may feel aggrieved knows where to go and what to do but it will not trigger a complaint automatically,” he said.
Members on both sides of the aisle stressed the importance of stopping racial profiling in Connecticut.
Rep. John Shaban, R-Redding, said until recently he played semi-pro football with men of several different minority groups. Several were African American and perceived racial profiling to be a very real problem while they were driving.
“Almost all of them were concerned about driving to certain games or certain events or practices because of the color of their skin. And that was a genuine feeling these guys had,” Shaban said.
“I experienced it personally because some of these guys would throw me in the front seat of the car and call me ‘EZ Pass,’” said Shaban, who is white.
While the bill may be slightly more of a burden on police departments, Shaban said he would support it because it was worth determining whether perception was reality.
“Nobody in our state should get pulled for DWB,” he said, meaning “driving while black.”
A similar bill died in committee last year. But Holder-Winfield raised the bill again, and this year it had additional traction after several high-profile instances of racial profiling.
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice found the East Haven Police Department engaged in racially profiling Latino motorists. In January, four East Haven police officers were arrested for targeting Latinos for harassment and beatings.
Later, a Hartford Courant analysis of traffic stop data found that Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to come away from a traffic stop with a ticket or citation.
The bill, which already passed the Senate, now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who has said he would support the legislation. Last year, Malloy’s administration opposed the legislation because it didn’t have enough money to transition the collection of the data from the African-American Affairs Commission to the Office of Policy and Management. However, Michael Lawlor, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser at the Office of Policy and Management, said there is a federal grant with the Department of Transportation that 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.
“Last year, I instructed the Office of Policy and Management, with the help of Central Connecticut State University, to create the advisory group called for in the bill, and they have begun to develop standardized methods and guidelines to improve collection of racial-profiling data,” Malloy said in a statement Monday. “In recent months, I have met with a number of groups to hear their concerns. This is a real problem that deserves a real solution, and my administration is committed to carrying out the spirit and letter of this law. I look forward to signing the bill when it arrives at my desk.”