Since an audit uncovered that hundreds of State Police troopers may have falsified traffic stop data required to go into Connecticut’s racial profiling system, much attention has centered on how officials will hold accountable troopers found to have done so intentionally.
What seems to have received minimal attention, however, are the hundreds of constables the researchers also included in their audit. Similar to the troopers, the report found a “high likelihood” that many of them falsified ticketing information.
Unlike troopers, who are state police officers overseen by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, constables are considered municipal employees. They are typically hired to work in municipalities without organized police departments and fulfill the role of local officers.
The town’s leadership, working with “resident state troopers” employed by DESPP, manages the constables on a day-to-day basis. When it comes to internal affairs investigations, constables are treated like their counterparts.
After the audit was released, the Department of Justice, the Department of Transportation, the chief state’s attorney, the governor’s office and state legislators launched inquiries with the intent of gathering answers. State Police officials are conducting their own investigation, but with a particular focus on more than a hundred troopers identified by auditors as having “significant discrepancies” in their data.
But the State Police has not publicly announced any plans to investigate constables, and some top elected officials in towns that employ the officers say they have yet to hear about it from the agency. It has prompted concerns from some about whether each officer implicated in wrongdoing will face consequences. The answers are less clear with the looming retirements of Connecticut’s top two public safety officials.
“At some point, somebody’s going to need to drill down on them and figure out what happened. Same thing as they’re trying to figure out for the State Police,” said Ken Barone, who co-authored the audit. “Was this intentional? Was it a human error? Or was it a training issue? Was it a technical issue? And then what do you do about it? But they certainly can’t go without scrutiny because the discrepancies are too large.”
The Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, a team of researchers collecting statewide data on the race and ethnicity of people pulled over by police, released the audit in late June. After reviewing more than 800,000 infractions reported by 1,301 troopers from 2014 to 2021, auditors outlined three main concerns: falsified records, overreported records and underreported records.
A falsified record was one that did not reflect a real traffic stop. An overreported record referred to those identified in the state’s racial profiling database but not in the court system, known as the Centralized Infractions Bureau. Underreported records were those found in the court system but not in the profiling data.
Using what they described as “extremely loose” criteria, researchers were unable to corroborate 25,966 stops submitted to the racial profiling database by troopers, while indicating that the number of falsified records could possibly reach 58,553.
Overreported traffic infractions by troopers, which could have criminal implications, were more likely to involve white non-Hispanic drivers. Troopers’ underreported infractions, an apparent violation of state law, were more likely to include Black or Hispanic motorists.
The audit also found 311 troopers with “significant discrepancies,” a number that was whittled down to 130 in an effort to “better hone the analysis” to people with the “most significant” inaccuracies.
State Police officials then launched an investigation into the 130 troopers, vowing to “dig into those names, exonerate those who are falsely alleged, but pursue those who are falsifying these documents.” No resident received a fake ticket, officials also said.
But they have refused to answer questions about whether they plan to investigate constables, who contribute less than 5% of all stops reported by police but whose data also had discrepancies.
“The agency will not be speaking on these matters as they relate to both ongoing investigations and pending litigation,” said a spokesperson in response to a recent email from the Connecticut Mirror.
Auditors identified at least 7,427 overreported traffic stops by constables — records that were “most likely” falsified. Of the 373 constables examined, 62% had at least one overreported record between 2014 and 2021, according to the audit.
Twenty of them overreported more than 100 racial profiling records and accounted for approximately 57% of all overreported records by constables, the report says. Sixty-three constables were labeled as having the most significant discrepancies.
Researchers could not as easily determine the number of underreported records by constables due to difficulties assessing their badge numbers. But an evaluation of available data led the report’s authors to conclude that underreported records warranted further inquiry by police officials.
To Barone’s knowledge, further evaluation of constables has not taken place.
State Police officials conduct any internal inquiries involving constables and pass along the findings to municipal leadership — in some cases, a town’s first selectman, the chief elected official — who then decides what action to take.
If intentional wrongdoing was found in the ticketing scandal, for example, a first selectman or board of selectmen could decide to terminate the constable’s employment and make a request to revoke their policing license, a process managed by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council.
But that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Based on interviews and email exchanges with several first selectmen, some in towns with the most constables, none have received any information from the State Police regarding an investigation into their employees. And many don’t find it likely that they will.
“If it were to be investigated and there was to be proven that there was wrongdoing, we would address it,” said Jeff Manville, Southbury’s first selectman. “I’m not worried about that at all here in Southbury. I mean, maybe it’s a little naive on my part, I’m not sure. But I’ve known a lot of these officers … We have a very community-oriented police department. There really has been a great bunch of people.”
Last summer, Hearst Connecticut Media Group revealed how, in 2018, four state troopers allegedly fabricated hundreds of traffic stop tickets for better assignments, pay increases, promotions and specialty vehicles. The news organization’s reporting was the catalyst for the audit, though the audit didn’t determine the intent of troopers and constables with discrepancies.
In the recent interviews with the CT Mirror, first selectmen said their towns don’t reward constables for their productivity, which they believe would eliminate any concern about an officer submitting bogus ticketing data to the racial profiling system for personal gain.
“I think the investigation will figure it out. If there’s any of that here, I’d be surprised. But I don’t have any context or knowledge of any of that here,” said John Hall, Westbrook’s first selectman. “I would hope they would keep me in the loop on it. But it is an investigation being handled by higher-ups.”
Some first selectmen have hired constables who previously retired as state troopers, which could further complicate if and how towns decide to hold their employees accountable.
In July, Rolling Stone reported that a retired state trooper named Robert S. Hart, who was assigned to Westbrook’s Troop F, had the most overreported records — 1,350 over a four-year period — before his stepping down in 2017.
The CT Mirror also identified a person named Robert Hart who is currently working as a constable in Essex. Hart did not respond to requests for comment, but Essex’s first selectman, Norm Needleman, confirmed that it’s the same individual.
Needleman, also a Democratic state senator, said Hart’s time as a constable “has been terrific,” and he doesn’t feel like there’s anything he can do with regard to his tenure with the State Police. He also said that he has not had any correspondence with State Police officials about the ticketing scandal.
“I’ve checked all of my officers’ activity reports, and his is typical,” Needleman said. “I think that until they investigate stuff and start damaging people’s reputations, they should really have all the facts. The investigation should go on and then people’s names, if they did wrong, become public information. I’m not a big fan of chastising people before you have all the facts.”
At the very least, state officials know that the racial profiling data they have used to craft public policy has been unreliable due to the problems documented in the audit.
With the retirements of James Rovella and Stavros Mellekas as Connecticut’s top two public safety officials, incoming DESPP commissioner Ronnell Higgins’ duties will consist of holding both troopers and constables accountable.
“I’ve been firm, fair and consistent throughout my career,” Higgins said earlier this month. “I’m not read-in on any investigations right now. I haven’t spoken to anyone, but I’m looking forward to learning, actually, what happened, how it happened and how I can be a part of it never happening again.”
Scot X. Esdaile, the president of Connecticut’s NAACP, said he believes Higgins will need to make the accountability piece a top priority for constables, just as officials have done for their law enforcement counterparts.
“First, to discipline constables that are involved in illicit behavior, and then the second piece would be, how do they supervise them better in the future?” Esdaile said. “The whole racial profiling laws were designed to protect Black and brown people on the highways. So I just want to let you know that this is a direct hit on Black and brown people. And they have totally undermined everything that we’ve worked on.”
As federal authorities conduct their own investigations, which could take years to conclude, the responsibility of gathering information on constables will also fall on agencies outside of DESPP and the State Police.
Gov. Ned Lamont has appointed Deirdre Daly, formerly a federal prosecutor under President Barack Obama, to investigate “how and why the misconduct occurred, why it went undetected for so long and what reforms should be implemented to ensure that such misconduct does not reoccur.”
In a statement to the CT Mirror, David Bednarz, a spokesperson for Lamont, said the governor “anticipates that this review will incorporate all aspects of it, including those involving constables.”
State prosecutors may have an obligation to disclose to defense attorneys the names of constables under investigation, particularly if the officers have ever testified in court.
Brady v. Maryland, a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1963, held that defense lawyers have a right to examine material evidence favorable to their clients. The high court’s decision nearly a decade later, in Giglio v. United States, expanded that right to include knowledge about witnesses who may lack credibility.
In a statement, Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice said it “recognizes and remains fully committed to meeting its obligations … to disclose exculpatory and impeachment information to criminal defendants in each and every case.”
Until those investigations produce findings, some officials in towns that employ constables don’t plan to take any action.
As for how they might handle any constables found to have intentionally falsified traffic stop information or purposefully neglected reporting traffic data, “we will cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Hall, the Westbrook first selectman.