A law went into effect Tuesday requiring police to issue each motorist they stop instructions for filing a complaint if that driver believes he or she has been racially profiled.
The notices are part of an effort by the state to collect data from police agencies and analyze it for evidence of racial profiling. Last year, the legislature passed a bill strengthening an existing — but often ignored — law on racial profiling.
In addition to handing drivers instructions for making a complaint, officers are now required to fill out a questionnaire with information on every traffic stop. The form includes data on the gender, race, and age of the driver. It also tracks how long the stop took and what actions were taken by the officer.
Although lawmakers have pushed to update the law for a few years, last year’s legislation gained traction after some high-profile instances of racial profiling in Connecticut.
The U.S. Department of Justice accused the East Haven Police Department of racially profiling Latino motorists and charged four of the town’s police officers with targeting Latinos for harassment and beatings.
Two of those now former officers, David Cari and Dennis Spaulding, have been on trial since late last month at a federal courthouse in Hartford. The other two officers pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
The new complaint process also comes after criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the level of difficulty involved in filing a complaint against an officer and from lawmakers frustrated by the failure of many law enforcement agencies to comply with the 1999 Alvin Penn Act.
The new requirements apply to each of the 99 law enforcement agencies in Connecticut that have the authority to stop motorists. It will have the biggest impact on state and municipal police departments. However, it also applies to other agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, the departments of Revenue Services and Energy and Environmental Protection, tribal police, and rail road police.
Law enforcement agencies conducted around 750,000 traffic stops last year, according to research specialist Ken Barone of the Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy. The state has given the institute the complicated task of analyzing the data from police for evidence of racial profiling.
Barone said the state has printed about 800,000 notices for police to issue to motorists they pull over. The first batch of notices, which are expected to last about a year, cost $12,000 and was paid for through a federal grant.
The idea behind the instructions is to simplify the process of making a complaint to a law enforcement agency.
State Police Col. Danny Stebbins, who serves on the Racial Profiling Advisory Board, said the state police typically receive around three or four complaints a year. That number could go up now that every driver will have instructions for filing them. When complaints are made, the agency investigates them, he said.
“I haven’t heard anything back yet that tells me [the new instructions] aren’t working. It’s too early to tell yet if we are getting more complaints, less complaints, as to what it’s generating,” he said.
Police have only been handing out the forms since Tuesday.
State police were responsible for around a third of the 750,000 traffic stops last year. Stebbins said the number of stops the agency conducts may drop as troopers get used to the new requirements.
“There is additional paperwork and there probably will be some reductions [in traffic stops] until people get used to the system,” he said. “It takes a little longer to do a stop. So if you do 10 in the morning normally, you might be doing something less because of the time commitment.”
Stebbins said officers with electronic, “E-ticket,” systems in their vehicles will be able to comply with the new requirements quicker. During a meeting of Racial Profiling Advisory Board on Thursday, members discussed recommending that the legislature approve additional funding to equip more agencies with the system.
“As soon as the IT catches up to the law, we’ll be in fine shape,” Stebbins said.