Nine Connecticut police departments and a state police troop showed racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops they made over a 12-month period, according to a new study by Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy.
The most damning evidence from the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project report is that black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be pulled over during daylight hours than after dark, when officers presumably can’t see who’s behind the wheel nearly as well.
Most of the departments pinpointed as having possible problems by the 292-page study of more than 585,000 traffic stops around the state are in Hartford County, including the Connecticut State Police’s Troop H.
Police officials said the results may be an indication that the study needs to take commuting, shopping, and entertainment travel into account to a greater degree.
Researchers said there may be other factors as well. They said they’ll work closely with the departments to find out what they’re doing and to see if changes might reduce what some may perceive as racial profiling in the traffic stops.
Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, a past president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and a member of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Advisory Board, said that nobody should be stopped based on their race or ethnicity.
He said the data collected on traffic stops can serve a valuable purpose, but it’s important that it’s used by officials “to really move the needle forward” and to unite people on solutions rather than creating more divisions.
“That is what we hope happens going forward,” Fuchs said.
Researchers said that in addition to looking at particular departments, they are also eyeing 25 unidentified individual officers whose stops show racial disparity, perhaps for good reason. The officers are not named in the data, but their own departments will be able to figure out who they are and what might have caused them to be singled out.
Ken Barone, the project manager behind the study, said the officer analysis “should not be viewed as an outright condemnation of a particular police officer, but must be considered within the context of other available information” that supervisors will likely examine.
The overall data points to potential problems in the Hartford-based Troop H and nine municipal departments.
Bloomfield, New Milford, Norwalk, West Hartford, and Wethersfield appeared to target black and Hispanic drivers more frequently, according to the study.
Meriden, Newington, Trumbull, and Windsor were also found to have consistent disparities that raise the potential of racial and ethnic bias, the study found.
While the nine towns and Troop H are statistical outliers this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged in racial profiling, officials cautioned.
James Fazzalaro, a research and policy analyst for the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, pointed out that four municipalities on last year’s list of potential problems aren’t on the list this year. There are a number of reasons for it, but one of them is that changes in police policy can make a difference.
Officials pointed out that Hamden, for example, de-emphasized traffic stops for equipment-related issues in the minority neighborhoods along its border with New Haven, a move that improved its record without apparently crimping its success since crime rates also fell.
The “veil of darkness” data, which takes into account stops made during twilight hours that are dark some times of year but light other times, is a possibly illuminating glimpse of how racial and ethnic biases may influence police stops.
There’s a lot of complicated math involved — the result of a 2006 paper by a couple of prominent professors — but the bottom line is that data from some departments appears to indicate officers are more apt to pull over minority drivers when they can see them.
“Daylight is much easier for an officer to identify race and ethnicity of a driver,” Barone said.
The data gathered for the report is available online along with the report, which can be found at www.ctrp3.org.
Barone said that Connecticut is out front on the issue, dipping into far more data on traffic stops than most states. Taken together, the data provides “a good tool” for police and everyone interested in the issue, he said.
Former lawmaker William Dyson, chairman of the advisory board, said he appreciates that the effort to resolve the profiling issue has brought out a spirit of cooperation.
“We have different views about things. But it has not stopped us from being able to work together, Dyson said. “It proves that you can get things done. People can work together. And that there’s nothing to fear from that working together.”