Racial profiling law ignored for a decade

Only 27 police departments consistently file annual reports required by state law to show whether minorities are targeted in traffic stops — not that it would matter if more departments complied. No one has analyzed the limited data that is filed since 2001.

A dozen years after the Connecticut General Assembly banned racial profiling in traffic stops and required police departments to file annual reports, a new group of minority lawmakers is pressing to make the reports relevant.


Rep. Kelvin Roldan at lectern

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was black motorists who complained about being regularly stopped up and down the Eastern Seaboard by police who seemed to equate blacks in out-of-state cars with drug couriers. In Connecticut, minorities said they were regularly stopped driving through the white Hartford suburb of Avon on their way to a summer swimming area.

Latino legislators said Wednesday it is their constituents who increasingly are bearing the brunt of racial profiling, an issue once again in the spotlight after a federal investigation concluded that East Haven police target Hispanic drivers.

Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford, said at a news conference that the East Haven situation could have been more easily documented if the Racial Profiling Prohibition Act passed in 1999 was properly enforced.

“Federal investigation should not have been necessary, but now it is time for state government to step up and meet its responsibilities for protecting the rights of our residents,” Roldan said.

But blame for the lack of oversight seems to be shared by local police and state government. Only once since the annual reports were required has the data been subjected to a detailed analysis.

And that was in 2001, when the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney was responsible for the collection and analysis of the data.

Michael P. Lawlor, who oversees criminal justice policy at the state Office of Policy and Management, said the 2001 report was ambiguous: If someone suspected racial profiling, some of the data supported their view; for those who doubted profiling, other data supported that contrary view.

“I think people were frustrated with the report that was issued then,” said Lawlor, a former co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

In 2003, the legislature shifted responsibility for the reports to the legislature’s African-American Affairs Commission, but the commission has not had the staff or budget to analyze the data, said Glenn A. Cassis, the commission’s executive director.

Cassis said only 27 departments have consistently filed the reports, while data going back to 2008 that was released late Wednesday afternoon shows 37 police agencies have filed at last some data annually.

The reports varied in format and detail. Some departments send in spreadsheets, others file paper reports.

Coventry, a small rural community in eastern Connecticut, is one of the towns to file a paper report listing every traffic stop under the name of each of the department’s 15 officers, with the race and gender of each motorist stopped.

Avon, whose traffic stops in the 1990s were controversial, is one of the towns that has regularly filed reports, while its neighbors Canton and Farmington have not filed in four years, as is the case with two of the state’s largest cities, Bridgeport and Hartford.

Other communities to file no reports in the past four years include: Clinton, Derby, East Windsor, Glastonbury, Manchester, Meriden, Middlebury, Middletown, Monroe, Southington, Thomaston, Torrington and Waterford, Wolcott and Woodbridge.

Willimantic filed in 2008, but not since.

The Connecticut State Police filed data for 2009, 2010 and the latter half of 2008. They filed no data in 2011.

New Haven and Stamford have regularly filed reports.

Lawlor said police in some towns told him that they ceased to compile the reports once they realized the data had not been analyzed since 2001, the second year it was collected.

No one seemed to notice, although the law was mentioned on the House floor in 2008 during a debate on whether to ban open containers of alcohol in cars. Some black legislators questioned if an open container law would become a pretext for minorities to be pulled over.

Lawlor mentioned that racial data already was being collected under the 1999 law, but he said Wednesday that he was unaware then no one was pursuing the information or analyzing it. During his long tenture as co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, no one complained about a lack of resources to do the job, he said.

Racial profiling seemed to shrink as an issue until East Haven hit the news. In December, the U.S. Department of Justice ended a two-year investigation of the department with a scathing 23-page report. Forty percent of the motorists stopped by one officer were Hispanic, while Latinos comprise less than 9 percent of East Haven residents.

“Based on our review, we find that the EHPD engages in a pattern or practice of systematically discriminating against Latinos,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. “The pattern or practice of discriminatory policing that we observed is deeply rooted in the Department’s culture and substantially interferes with the ability of EHPD to deliver services to the entire East Haven community.”

On Wednesday, Roldan and other legislators say they need reliable data to ensure there are not more East Havens.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Roldan said.

They were joined at the news conference by Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, who succeeded Lawlor in the legislature, and by Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

“It is clear that Connecticut’s existing ban on racial profiling needs refinement,” Coleman said. “It is a sad fact that the law is not being enforced.”