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Driving home from work or the grocery store can be terrifying as a Black person. Across the country we’ve seen how police traffic stops can turn deadly, as in the case of Tyre Nicholas, Keenan Anderson and Philando Castile. Here in Connecticut, 18-year-old Anthony Jose Vega Cruz was killed in 2019 by police after being pursued for a misdemeanor license plate violation.

As a lifelong resident of Hartford and licensed social worker, I’ve seen the trauma of racism on our roads. I’ve experienced and heard stories about police interactions in my community that could have turned into headlines. People who look like me are at risk of losing their lives every time we get behind the wheel.

Research shows that Black and Latino drivers in Connecticut are disproportionately targeted for low-level driving violations, like a broken headlight, compared to white drivers. Black drivers are 1.2 times and Latino drivers are 1.3 times more likely to be stopped for an administrative offense, like an expired registration, compared to white drivers. 

Connecticut can take a step in improving driving equity by passing Senate Bill 1195 this session. The bill would make certain low-level violations into secondary offenses, meaning a person cannot be pulled over based solely on one of these infractions. Senate Bill 1195 recently passed the state Senate with bipartisan support. Now the state House of Representatives should vote in support of the bill and the Governor should sign it. 

Senate Bill 1195 reclassifies specific violations that use police resources but have little impact on safety. The Connecticut Racial Profiling Project analyzed traffic crash data and found that in 2019 improper license plate display led to over 14,000 stops, but had no contribution to traffic accidents. There were 24,000 stops for a single defective light and 4,378 stops for tinted windows, yet both only contributed to one tenth of one percent of crashes. Shifting enforcement away from these minor offenses to what we know cause the vast majority of injuries and deaths — speeding, distracted driving and DUI — will allow police to focus their time on what matters.

This legislation is based on the recommendations of the state’s Police Transparency and Accountability Task Force which included four police chiefs and other police professionals. It would put Connecticut in line with other jurisdictions that have limited low-level traffic stops including Virginia, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Memphis. 

Some police departments in Connecticut have already decided to stop low-level stops and it has resulted in making our communities safer. In New Haven, the chief reprioritized traffic enforcement to focus on dangerous driving after finding significant racial disparities in enforcement. The following year, the department reported equipment and administrative offenses were reduced by 6%, accidents dropped by 15%, and crime dropped by 5%.

We all deserve to drive home safely without the fear that an unnecessary stop will turn deadly. Senate Bill 1195 would help build trust between law enforcement and our communities, and allow police to focus limited resources on the driving behaviors that make us less safe.

Omar Green is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Hartford.