The issue: Justice should be blind, but detailed analysis has shown that local police are not always color blind. After the U.S. Justice Department documented racial profiling by the East Haven Police Department, the state responded by requiring all departments to collect and report data on traffic stops as of October 2013.
The information, analyzed by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, has revealed disturbing patterns. From the first report issued in 2014, that data showed a number of municipalities and other law enforcement entities stopped minority drivers with more frequency than reflected in their percentage of the population. The risks of driving while black, or brown, were real.
What we’ve said: “The numbers demand thoughtful consideration, and the researchers have pledged to do deeper dives into areas that caught their attention. ... Chiefs in communities such as Monroe and Greenwich offered an appropriate challenge that the data are flawed, since it compared stops with residency statistics without taking into account population shifts that take place during daytime working hours. ... The report serves as the equivalent of slapping the municipal police departments with a warning, a suggestion they will be monitored for leanings toward profiling.” — Editorial, Nov. 15, 2017
“Transparency regarding profiling is vital, but data is useless if it fails to shape solutions. The goal should be to improve awareness and training so police are better prepared to make the right decisions in the heat of the moment.” — Editorial, May 4, 2018
What’s new: The Institute’s latest report, released Tuesday, indicated progress across the state but highlighted more needs to be done to erase racial disparities in traffic stops. The fourth annual report was based on information gathered from 94 municipal police departments, 11 Connecticut State Police troops and two special agencies on traffic stops in 2017. During that time, the number of stops overall declined by about 70,000.
But several local departments — including Derby and Fairfield — were singled out for greater review. And Darien, Stratford and Trumbull were among nine departments that exceeded disparity thresholds for more than half the criteria considered. In Fairfield, for example, black and Hispanic drivers were four times more likely than white drivers to receive a misdemeanor once stopped, the report stated.
Estimated commuter traffic, resident-only stops, and the percentage of minority stops compared with the statewide average were factored into the report. Police chiefs, such as Fairfield Chief Chris Lyddy, questioned some of the population statistics used in the report, but also said the findings were helpful.
What should happen next: Awareness of possible unperceived bias and training should be ongoing for police departments so that eventually all drivers will be treated equitably. The Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy is performing a useful service for Connecticut’s residents and, over time, we expect the positive trend will continue.