Connecticut “has been fortunate’’ to avoid the deadly shootings involving police and minorities that have plagued the rest of the country, the chairman of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Advisory Board said Thursday.
“We’ve escaped, so far, but something may be around the corner,’’ former New Haven state Rep. William Dyson, who chairs the board, said.
Meanwhile, he warned, “we need to be talking.’’ And by “we’’ he meant police, politicians, and people in the communities.
“I don’t mean to be preaching,’’ continued Dyson. “We all find a way to dance around the issue, to avoid talking about the elephant or the gorilla in the room – racism.’’
Dyson’s words came near the end of a more than two hour meeting of the advisory board. The board has been meeting regularly since May of 2012. Its focus has been to better understand traffic stop data in communities and report on it.
Ken Barone, policy and research specialist at the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy at CCSU, and a member of the advisory board, acknowledged the media attention the group’s work has attracted in May.
It recently released a study that found nine Connecticut police departments and a state police troop showed racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops they made over a 12-month period. It’s the second study the group has released.
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.
The 292-page report looked at more than 585,000 traffic stops around the state.
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. But at the same time the information included in the lengthy report and the explanations as to why some of the traffic stops occurred don’t always boil down to a sound byte.
Also some police departments have felt like they’ve been targeted by the group and don’t believe the data always gives the fullest picture of what’s actually happening in their community.
Tamara Lanier, criminal justice chair of the NAACP, said she thinks the group needs to be careful about the follow up data it does report because the data is the data.
“We don’t want to detract from the data. The data should be the driving factor here,” she said.
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.
Barone said that Connecticut is out front on the issue, stating that it is the only state “that goes beyond producing an annual report.’’ The state takes it a step further, Barone said analyzing the data for trends and possible corrective actions.
“We’ve made progress in the three years we’ve been studying the issue,’’ he said.
Barone said the group’s federal funding is about to expire, but he’s hoping the work they’ve done will ensure continued funding.
In the meantime, he’s hoping Connecticut lawmakers consider revisiting some motor vehicle laws that discriminate against minority drivers.
“There are racial and ethnic disparities,’’ in our motor vehicle laws, said Barone. He said a careful look at the data shows that minorities are significantly more likely to be searched by police and significantly more likely to have their cars pulled over for equipment violations.
Barone said the police weren’t necessarily at fault for pulling minorities over in higher numbers than white drivers. “It is how policing has developed over 30 years,’’ he said.
Police have been trained, Barone said, that motor vehicle stops translates into fewer drugs being on the streets.
That’s simply not true, according to the data, Barone said.