A group that is charged with monitoring whether police departments in the state profile minorities disproportionately when making traffic stops has no idea if Bridgeport Police are complying with the law.
That’s because department and city officials have been unresponsive to requests from the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy to go over their traffic stop data, according to Ken Barone, policy and research specialist.
Barone told the Connecticut Racial Profiling Advisory Board last Thursday about Bridgeport’s lack of cooperation during a meeting where the group went over a report analyzing potential racial profiling problems during traffic stops at nine municipal departments in the state and Troop H, based in Hartford.
In a follow-up interview last week, Barone said he, or members of the Institute, have made repeated attempts to set up meetings with Bridgeport police officials over the past several months to go over “some problems” with the data that Bridgeport submitted.
Those requests for meetings have gone unanswered, Barone said.
Barone explained that Bridgeport was one of seven municipalities in the state that are using a system built by the Institute to enter traffic stop data. Hartford is another one of the seven that is using the system.
“When we found some issues earlier this year with the Hartford numbers we held a meeting with Hartford police officials and sorted through the problems,” Barone said.
Barone said the problems found in Hartford were generally data entry issues, and that is likely the case in Bridgeport.
For instance, Barone continued, some of Bridgeport’s numbers showed a much higher ratio of “investigative” versus “traffic stop” reports entered than most municipalities.
Usually that indicates, he reiterated, data entry errors, “But we can’t know without sitting down with Bridgeport police and going over it.”
The Institute is in charge of sifting through 106 police departments in the state’s traffic stop data — looking for instances of possible racial profiling. Ninety-nine of those departments have their own electronic systems in place that directly input the information into the Institute’s database.
Hartford, Bridgeport, and five other municipalities don’t.
David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut, wasn’t happy when he heard that Bridgeport has not been cooperating with Barone or his colleagues.
“Some departments have not taken it as seriously as they should be,” McGuire said. He added that if police don’t comply they should be hit with penalties, such as having grant funding withheld from the state Office of Policy and Management.
Bridgeport Police Captain Mark Straubel said Friday that the city not getting together with Barone and his team to over the traffic stop reports was a “misunderstanding.”
He said Bridgeport officials “were in contact” Friday with Institute officials to “do whatever we have to do to comply.”
Straubel said part of Bridgeport’s problem is, “We do not have a record management system in place. Everything is done handwritten.
“We’ve been doing more with less and because of that there’s been a time lag with some of our record keeping,” Straubel said.
The dust up came a day after Bridgeport police settled a lawsuit brought by a man who was stopped, searched, and ticketed as he drove his boys home from Little League and pizza two years ago.
Woodrow Vereen, who is black, alleges the incident violated his constitutional rights.
Vereen was initially stopped for a traffic violation.
But then, he alleged, officers Keith Ruffin and Carlos Vasquez removed him from his car, frisked him, and then searched the car itself as his boys looked on.
Vereen argued police had no probable cause. At the time, the city of Bridgeport declined to comment, other than to say that it stood by its officers.
Now, the city is settling the case out of court for an undisclosed sum, according to Vereen’s attorney at the ACLU. As part of the deal, the city “denies any and all of the material allegations made by Mr. Vereen” in the lawsuit.
Vereen also agreed to withdraw his claim. The traffic tickets he received for coasting through a yellow light and not having proof of insurance had already been dismissed in state court, according to his lawyer.
ACLU legal director Dan Barrett said he was pleased with the result, as it provides a reminder to police departments that they can’t willfully violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections from unreasonable search and seizure.
“The problem in Mr. Vereen’s case,” Barrett said, “is that what began as a traffic stop turned into him being taken out of his car, in front of his children, him bring pat-frisked, and then the car being searched.”
Vereen, a music minister and juvenile detention officer, said: “One of the reasons I filed this lawsuit was to show people who feel they don’t have a voice, or the means to get help, that it’s possible to get justice.”