Nearly 30 years ago Connecticut’s state police signed a legally binding agreement to boost the number of black and Hispanic troopers to 10 percent of the force so it would mirror the proportion of minorities in Connecticut’s population.
The state police met that goal decades ago, but there hasn’t been much change since, though minorities now represent about a quarter of the state’s population.
As of mid-February, 5 percent of the 1,124 state police sworn personnel were black and 5 percent were Hispanic. There were 57 blacks and 57 Hispanics on the force. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 11.5 percent of Connecticut’s population is black and 15 percent is Hispanic.
Fred Abrams is the president of the Connecticut chapter of Men and Women for Justice, a non-profit group of law enforcement officers that filed the lawsuit – alleging racial discrimination and violations of the Civil Rights Act – that led to the settlement with the state police in 1987.
Men and Women for Justice says it still has more than 300 members in Connecticut, including state and local police and retired officers, firefighters and those who work in the justice and corrections system. The group also has chapters in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The state police, Abrams said, have failed to hire more minority officers because of an unwillingness to change and a lack of oversight.
“No one is watching the ship,” said Abrams, who is black. “No one is monitoring their recruiting or their promotion or hiring practices.”
In the 1987 settlement, the state police did not admit discrimination but signed a consent order that said, “In order to remedy any prior exclusion of minorities in hiring for sworn positions within the Connecticut State Police,” the force would increase the hiring of minorities so that at least 10 percent of officers were minorities.
“Our lawsuit made it possible for the state police to have an affirmative action office, but it has not done anything,” Abrams said.
In addition, a federal judge in 1984 ordered the state police to increase the number of minority officers in special units, such as detective squads and major crimes units, and to increase promotion of minorities.
Yet, Abrams said, it is still difficult for minorities in the force to get promoted and assigned to special units. He retired from the state police in April after more than 25 years of service, in part because he failed to win promotion to the major crimes unit.
“They find ways to justify you’re not going anywhere,” he said.
Colonel Alaric J. Fox, the commander of the Connecticut State Police, declined requests for an interview.
State police spokeswoman Kelly Grant said transfer to a specialized unit requires an officer to pass a civil service exam that is overseen by the state Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. She said a committee prepares the exam “based off the specialty of the unit, current state laws and the appropriate department policies.”
More broadly, Grant said the force actively recruits minorities in “a variety of venues in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and occasionally New Jersey.”
She says recruitment is conducted at colleges and military fairs “and any other venue we’re invited to.”
Like the state police, many municipal police departments in Connecticut are also lagging in the hiring of minority officers.
In December of 2014, the Connecticut Mirror determined that only about 12 percent of Hartford’s police department was black, while the city has a nearly 39 percent black population. New Britain has a nearly 37 percent Hispanic population, but only about 7 percent of its police officers were Hispanic. Nearly 29 percent of Meriden’s population is black, but only about 8 percent of its police officers were.
Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union and chairman of the East Hartford-based National Trooper Coalition, said the issue of minority representation on the force “has not ever been brought to my attention.”
Matthews said some troopers are deployed statewide as highway patrolmen, but others work in 81 small towns that have fewer minority residents than the state’s big cities, so the numbers of minority troopers are adequate.
“I’m 100 percent confident our agency tries to recruit and retain minority candidates,” Matthews said. “We can’t force people to want to be troopers.
The 2014 shooting death of a black youth by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and other actions against black suspects by white law enforcement officers have fostered a national debate over civil rights and the racial and ethnic makeups of the nation’s police forces.
Since the shooting in Ferguson, the city has moved to hire more minority officers. Last month it hired its first black chief, Delrish Moss, a veteran of the Miami police department.
While Connecticut cities have not seen the kind of protests that took place in Missouri, Baltimore and elsewhere, there is some evidence of disparate treatment of minorities by police in the state.
A study released last month by the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy found that at least a dozen municipal police departments in the state and two of the 12 state police troops stopped black and Latino drivers in numbers higher than would be expected by a number of factors, including the racial makeup of an area’s estimated driving population.
The study found that five police departments and one state police troop had racial or ethnic disparities in traffic-stop patterns high enough to be statistically significant: Bloomfield, New Milford, Norwalk, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and State Police Troop H in Hartford.
Other police departments with less significant but still elevated disparities were East Hartford, Granby, Groton Town, Hamden, New Britain, Stratford, Waterbury, and State Police Troop C in Tolland.
While the state police say they are aggressively trying to recruit minorities, recruitment may not be the problem.
There’s evidence plenty of minorities apply for jobs with the state police. But the hiring process is arduous and long.
To become a state trooper, an applicant must clear several hurdles, including tough written and physical tests and extensive background checks.
The last training troop, conducted from June to December of last year, was composed of 57 white trainees, five blacks and six Hispanics, making it about 16 percent minority.
They were selected from thousands of applicants who may have spent several years going through the process.
The first step in applying for a job with the state police is taking a written exam, overseen by the Department of Administrative Services. In 2014, the latest year for which information is available, 3,324 applicants took the test, and only 360 failed.
Nearly half the applicants, 1,676, were black or Hispanic.
The failure and “no show” rate was higher for minority applicants, 47 percent, than for whites, 26 percent.
Still, 1,799 whites and 883 minorities passed the test, leaving a pool that was about two-thirds white and one-third minority. But only 12, or 1.3 percent, of the minorities eventually were offered appointments in the next training class, compared to 61, or 3.4 percent, of the white applicants who passed the test.
Because the application process can take years and there could be many months between each step of the process, many white and minority candidates drop out. But minority applicants fell out in a larger proportion at points in the process after the written exam.
That process includes a physical test that involves situps, pushups and other measures of flexibility, strength and endurance; a psychological profile; a polygraph; interviews; and background checks.
“Many applicants decide they don’t want to continue in the process,” said Master Sgt. William Kittle, of the Connecticut State Police Recruitment Unit. “It’s not uncommon for people to take the written exam and then decide not to take the physical test. We wish they would. We encourage them to continue.
The physical test was not a particular problem for minority candidates, but a fraction of those who passed the written test in 2014 took this exam.
In late 2014, 713 white applicants took the agility test, as did 30 African Americans and 36 Hispanics. About half, 352, of the white applicants failed, while the test disqualified only four blacks and eight Hispanics.
James McCabe, the head of the Criminal Justice Department at Sacred Heart University, said many minority applicants in other states were found to stumble in psychological tests and character exams “that were not geared toward minority candidates.”
For example, the Connecticut State Police use the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 to help screen candidates, a true-false exam designed to identify psychopathology and aid psychologists in rendering a mental-health diagnosis.
Nationally, there’s a disparity in the rating of white and black applicants who take the test. McCabe said there’s a reason for that – the test’s “battery of questions were geared toward white college students” and did not take into account the different life experiences of minorities.
Last year, black police officers’ groups charged that the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of the test was eliminating a lot of black applicants. After a review of the process, the city decided to revamp its psychological testing program.
The Connecticut State Police declined to give a breakdown of how many white and minority applicants passed the psychological exam, saying that information is confidential.
The Department of Administrative Services is the state agency that conducts all of the testing for the Connecticut State Police and other state agencies. DAS spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said testing required by the police has not been changed for the purpose of addressing racial and ethnic disparities, but has been modified for other purposes.
Another stumbling block for minority candidates is the requirement that a prospective police cadet not have had any trouble with the law.
McCabe, who served 21 years in the New York City Police Department, said many minority candidates live in inner cities and are likely to interact with police more often than white candidates who may have grown up in a suburb.
He cited as an example the frequency with which black youth playing basketball and drinking beer in the inner cities are cited for under-aged drinking and other offenses by police, “something that would never happen in a white suburb.”
To boost the number of black and Hispanic officers, some police departments have looked past “youthful indiscretions” and misdemeanor convictions when assessing the strengths of minority candidates. State police said they have not used more flexible standards.
McCabe said there’s a lot of competition in Connecticut for a limited number of law enforcement jobs, and that tough competition winnows out a lot of candidates, white, black and Hispanic.
But he said there is no justification for discrimination – or a fear of quotas.
“When minority candidates enter law enforcement they do just as well as white officers,” McCabe said. “If more minority officers were forced to be hired, they would do just fine.”