The recently adopted racial profiling legislation that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign may help the state assess the impact of the controversial federal “Secure Communities” immigration policy, according to the governor’s top criminal justice adviser.
The bill strengthens a law requiring police to report traffic stop data so that it can be analyzed by the state for evidence of racial profiling. But Michael P. Lawlor, the Office of Policy and Management’s head of criminal justice, said that analysis could also uncover misuse of a federal immigration policy.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program shares information and fingerprints collected by local police departments with the federal immigration and customs enforcement agency.
At a Thursday meeting of an advisory group created to implement the state’s new racial profiling initiative, Lawlor said he has heard concerns that police may be more inclined to fingerprint someone they believe may be undocumented because they know that the information will make its way to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Incidents that might not result in an arrest at all, or might result in a promise to appear ticket on the scene as opposed to bringing someone back to the station to be fingerprinted, may in the future result in more fingerprinting so that ICE will ultimately be notified,” he said.
Police officers have broad discretion in how they respond to crimes and the concern is, with the information sharing policy in place, some will target Latinos knowing they will be checked out by immigration. For instance, if a cop wanted federal authorities to look into someone he suspected of being in the country illegally, he might have that person fingerprinted for a minor infraction that typically would only warrant a ticket.
Lawlor said the concern is valid, pointing to the federal investigation of the police department in his hometown of East Haven. There, authorities found evidence that police were stopping Latinos with a higher frequency than whites. The investigation resulted in four East Haven police officers being charged with “biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and the use of excessive force.”
However, some of that behavior can be monitored under the traffic stop reporting requirements scheduled to be in place next year.
The advisory board has been tasked with developing a standardized form police will use to report, among other things, the race of motorists they stop, why they were stopped, and what action the officer took. So if officers make a habit of fingerprinting Latinos for minor infractions, theoretically the state will recognize it as a pattern in the data.
The state’s move to strengthen its data collection law comes at a time when it has become less common in other parts of the country, Northeastern University Professor Jack McDevitt told the advisory board. Laws requiring it in other states have sunsetted and the issue of racial profiling has fallen out of the public eye, he said. It’s also considered an inconvenience for police departments, he said.
“Any new form that you ask any of us to fill out — law enforcement or college professors — we all resent it,” he said.
However, in Connecticut racial profiling is still a prominent issue in part because of the East Haven police scandal and a Hartford Courant analysis of traffic stop data that found Black and Hispanic drivers were more likely to come away with a ticket or citation.
“The perception that this is happening for no apparent reason other than racial profiling is very real,” Lawlor said Thursday. “I think our ability to provide some empirical evidence and a case-by-case explanation of why decisions were made will really help inform the whole discussion.”
The new legislation has added significance due to its potential to keep tabs on the impact of the Secure Communities program, Lawlor said.
Connecticut has resisted implementation of the federal initiative over concerns it turns local cops into immigration agents, making victims and witnesses reluctant to cooperate. Malloy initially got the federal government to delay the implementation of the program in the state.
It has since gone live, but the state and federal government have disagreed over another provision of the program, enabling federal authorities to call on the state to hold onto prisoners after they’re scheduled to be released so that they can be transferred into federal custody.
Unlike other states, Connecticut has taken the position that the program doesn’t allow the federal government to force the state to detain prisoners for 48 hours so they can be transferred. Malloy has said the state will decide who it turns over to the feds.
Requests are looked at on a case-by-case basis and the state only complies if the inmate meets specific criteria, Lawlor said. For instance, if the individual in question is a convicted felon, a known gang member, on a federal watch list, or already involved with immigration court proceedings.
It’s a position Lawlor acknowledges the federal government isn’t happy about, but he said they have made no legal effort to challenge it.