State and federal investigations loomed over a Wednesday legislative hearing where Connecticut State Police officials told lawmakers they were looking at 130 current and former troopers in an internal probe of thousands of falsified traffic records.
Legislators on the Judiciary and Public Safety and Security Committees questioned State Police officials, union representatives and members of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project during an all-day informational hearing on the results of a recent audit which found at least 25,966 instances where state troopers misreported racial profiling data on traffic citations.
“This ticket fiasco has the ability to call into question the integrity of our law enforcement community but even more largely our criminal legal system,” Sen. Herron Gaston, D-Bridgeport, said during the proceedings. “Our officers are held to a higher standard.”
The legislative inquiry was one of several investigations into the falsely reported records believed to undermine work to identify racial profiling trends between 2014 and 2021.
Chief State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin’s office is also reviewing the issue for potential criminality and the governor has ordered an independent review led by former federal prosecutor Deirdre Daly. Meanwhile, Hearst Connecticut Media reported Wednesday that federal authorities with the Transportation Department had subpoenaed records related to troopers identified in the audit.
Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said those investigations as well as a potential second federal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department would impact the release of information from his agency.
“Don’t forget, there’s a federal investigation that’s looming presently and there could be a second federal investigation notice this week,” Rovella said. “That means it’s almost a ground stop for us because we will not interfere or tamper with a federal investigation.”
Lawmakers pushed back. Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said the two committees had a responsibility to oversee the state police.
“With all due respect to our friends in the federal government, our responsibility does not cease because of a federal investigation,” Stafstrom said. “We have an obligation to the taxpayers and the citizens of the state of Connecticut to conduct our own investigations.”
Rovella and other State Police officials told the committees that they were looking into the actions of 68 active state troopers and 62 retired troopers who misreported a number of tickets deemed statistically significant by racial profiling analysts. Ken Barone, a co-author of the audit, said the number was conservative and accounted for things like human error.
“Public trust, it takes time to build and only moments to fracture,” Rovella said. “I’m committed, along with the colonel and lieutenant colonel and the entire command staff of the State Police, to fixing these problems.”
In response to questioning, officials told the committee that they would have additional information on the 130 current and former troopers in October. They told the legislators they favored termination and decertification for any found to have intentionally falsified records.
However, more than one lawmaker questioned the disciplinary actions taken against four troopers who were investigated for falsifying records in 2018. Those actions included suspensions, transfers, and, in some cases, retirements.
“The state of Connecticut is listening to these comments and these discussions now,” Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said. “One of the things that we have to believe is that the laws of this state apply to everybody… They expect everyone to get the same type of response from the government and the police.”
Throughout the hearing, authors of the audit said much of the problematic reports were filed by troopers assigned in the eastern portions of the state. Andrew Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut State Police Union, said troopers there were under pressure to produce a high volume of traffic infractions.
“What happens is you get pressure from your superior, you don’t get certain work assignments, you don’t get a new car, you get transferred further away from your home,” Matthews said. “These are real things that affect people in their lives.”
State Police officials said they had discontinued initiatives to encourage more citations through perks like being assigned a better service vehicle like a Dodge Charger.
Early in the hearing, Rovella urged the committees not to focus on the negative implications of the audit.
“It would be an injustice to the entire Connecticut State Police if you did that,” he said. “The acts of a few are not by all.”
Legislators closed the hearing by promising to continue their efforts to understand the controversy and hold state troopers accountable for any wrongdoing. Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said lawmakers had no choice but to focus on the negative when it impacted the lives of residents.
“Don’t come here talking about ‘Let’s not focus on the negative,’” Winfield said. “Let’s focus on the negative and let’s root it out… Let’s focus on the negative and make sure that when we say there’s a punishment, there’s a punishment that people can believe in the same way that if they did a similar action, they would get a punishment. That would mean something to folks.”